GAB: What Voters Should Know About Registration and Absentee Ballot Mailings
For the City-Times
As Election Day approaches on November 4, another wave of voter registration and absentee ballot mailings have begun arriving in Wisconsin voters’ mailboxes.
The Government Accountability Board advises voters that their best sources of information about voter registration and absentee voting are their local clerks and MyVote.WI.gov, not mailings from political parties and independent groups.
As in previous election years, the G.A.B. and municipal clerks around the state have started receiving numerous questions and complaints about recent direct mailings on voter registration and absentee voting because they contain campaign messages and even errors that could interfere with voting, said Kevin J. Kennedy, director and general counsel of the G.A.B.
“Every election we get complaints about these types of mailings,” Kennedy said. “Political parties and interest groups send out glossy mailers to encourage voters to register or apply for an absentee ballot to vote by mail. While these mailings are permissible, our advice to voters is to examine them carefully before relying on them for definitive information about participating in the electoral process. Preferably, voters should rely instead on their local municipal clerk’s office or our MyVote.WI.gov website.”
One continuing problem with these mailers is that some of them contain incorrect return mailing addresses for municipal clerks. This can happen when the voter lives in a town outside a larger city, but has that city’s postal address. These incorrect addresses for the clerk’s office result in the request being misdirected or delayed or worse, the ballot not being counted, said Elections Division Administrator Michael Haas.
“Wisconsin’s municipal clerks are conscientious and diligent, and they do their best to send misdirected voter registrations and absentee ballot applications to the right place,” Haas said. However, ensuring that misdirected registration forms and absentee ballot applications actually get to the proper municipality in time cannot be guaranteed.
Additionally, some mailings contain errors or use wording to make recipients incorrectly believe they may no longer be registered to vote, Haas said. In recent days, the Milwaukee City Election Commission has received more than 100 complaints based on a mailing from the Voter Participation Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group.
These mailings also generate unnecessary work for municipal clerks because some people who are already registered fill out the forms and send them in, Haas said. “Voters can spend two minutes online at MyVote.WI.gov and see whether their registration is current,” he said.
Additionally, voter registration and absentee voting mailers often contain political messages printed on or with official forms, leading some people to mistakenly believe the mailers are coming from their municipal clerk or the Government Accountability Board. “The G.A.B. and Wisconsin’s municipal clerks are non-partisan, and would never send out partisan political mailings,” Kennedy said.
Voters who need to register or change their address should go to MyVote.WI.gov, Wisconsin’s secure voter services website, Haas said. The website is designed to deliver personalized information for each voter, so start by choosing the kind of voter you are, and enter your name and date of birth to see your own voter record. Electors who need to register for the first time, or need to update their voter record, are strongly encouraged to do so as soon as possible and not wait until Election Day.
MyVoteWI.gov is the only website where voters can enter their own information directly into the state’s voter registration list, Haas noted. “When you register using MyVote, your municipal clerk can approve your voter application without the hassle of retyping your information or the risk of a data entry error,” Haas said.
Using MyVote.WI.gov, people can fill out the registration form online, print it out, sign it and send it to the correct clerk’s address which the website will provide. Voters registering by mail must also send a copy of a proof-of-residence document, such as a driver license, utility bill or bank statement with the voter’s current address.
MyVote.WI.gov will deliver absentee ballots online only for military and permanent overseas voters, as authorized by law. Regular Wisconsin voters who need to get an absentee ballot can use MyVote.WI.gov to find their correct clerk’s address and contact information, then make the request in writing, or by fax or email.
Most voters who wish to cast absentee ballots by mail must make their request by 5 p.m. the Thursday before the election. Voters who are military or overseas, or who are indefinitely confined due to age, disability, infirmity or illness may request absentee ballots by 5 p.m. the Friday before the election. For this federal election, military voters who are on active duty away from their residence may request an absentee ballot until 5 p.m. on Election Day. All absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, and received by 4 p.m. Friday, November 7 to be counted.
Those wishing to vote early may also do so in-person at their municipal clerk’s office during normal business hours starting Monday, October 20. The period for in-person absentee voting ends Friday, October 31at 5 p.m. or the close of business, whichever is later. Hours vary, so voters should contact their municipal clerk to find out when the office is open for absentee voting.