Important Story from WI About Rejection of Absentee Ballots

In this deep dive analyzing the absentee ballot process in WI’s April 7th primary, the Green Bay Press Gazette (hat tip to local media) concludes that more than 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected in that primary. The story points out that President Trump won WI by less than that figure (22,748 votes) and that turnout for the fall will likely double from that in the primary.

Most importantly, the story identifies the specific reasons for the rejection of each of these ballots. Although it is often assumed that the main reason for rejection is that a ballot has been cast or received too late to be valid, that was not the case in WI. This chart shows that around 70% of rejections were due to voters not meeting the various procedural requirements necessary in WI for a ballot to be valid:

Some details from the story:

For an absentee ballot to count in Wisconsin, a voter and a witness must sign the ballot envelope and include the address of the witness….

Election experts say people in states like Wisconsin that traditionally have low by-mail voting rates are more prone to make errors.

“You’re asking folks to do something new,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor and voter data expert at the University of Florida. “And whenever you try to do something new in the midst of unprecedented demand, you’re going to have problems.” . . .

Bob and Jan Capen voted absentee for the first time in the April election. The couple signed their names as witnesses to each other’s ballots and mailed them in. Neither of their votes counted.

Their ballots were marked as “certification insufficient,” the most common reason cited for the 23,196 absentee ballots rejected in April. Copies of the Capens’ ballot envelopes show they both missed the yellow-highlighted line that required their addresses as witnesses.

“It’s my fault,” Bob Capen said. “But based on what I’ve learned so far, it’s not an easy process for a lot of people, so I can see how it could get all clustered up.”

Diane Coenen, president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, says first-time absentee voters can be confused by the ballot envelope, which displays a lot of information and requires attention to detail. Most people do not read it from top to bottom, Coenen said, “And if they miss something, the ballot will be rejected.”

WI is said to be taking a number of measures to try to reduce this problem by the fall election. WI does not currently give voters an opportunity to cure any procedural defects with their absentee ballots, a measure I have said states should adopt.

This granular case study of WI’s April primary complements nicely the comprehensive, nationwide analysis in the academic study Charles Stewart just posted.

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