Wisconsin Elections Commission To Send 2.7 Million Absentee Ballot Applications To Registered Voters

Conservative commissioners demand to see instructional letter for approval


May 28, 2020

The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) unanimously voted Wednesday night to send 2,714,000 absentee ballot requests to nearly every registered voter in Wisconsin.

WEC will not be sending the mailers to voters who have already requested an absentee ballot in 2020 or to voters who are believed to have moved. The mailer project will be funded by $2.2 million of the $7.3 million given to the Commission by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The purpose of the mailing is to assist voters who wish to vote absentee by mail in the November General Election because of the COVID-19 crisis” the staff memo reads. “Voters new to the absentee process often have difficulty understanding how to request, complete, and return an absentee ballot.”

The mailer, which would be between the WEC and the individual voter, is intended to take the data processing burden off of the shoulders of municipal clerks. Instead, paper requests for absentee ballots would route back to WEC, where the application information would be entered into the statewide MyVote database. Municipal clerks would still have to vet the applicant’s info after WEC employees enter their information.

Commissioners debated what level of involvement they wanted in the process to send out the mailer. Should they review the instructions included in the mailer before it’s sent out? Commissioner Jacobs argued that they should stay out of the process to avoid infighting that could delay the absentee mailer.

“We’re gonna wind up in a situation where we’re gonna be parsing individual words on a letter, and 3-3 votes,” Jacobs argued.

Commissioner Thomsen agreed with Jacobs, saying, “We aren’t micromanagers… I’m asking that we trust the staff to send a simple letter and get on with it right now.”

Conservative commissioner Spindell pushed back on that. “This is anything but a simple letter,” Spindell said.

“It seems to me that commissioner Thomsen and [Jacobs] are in the process of trying to push the democratic agenda of an all mail-in election or a situation where they’re trying to push, you should encourage people to vote absentee.” Spindell said the instructional letter must mention that voters can vote by mail, in-person, or in-person absentee.

Commissioner Bostlemann and WEC Chair Knudson both voiced concern about a $2.2 million statewide mailer being sent without review by the commissioners.

In their unanimous vote, the Commission decided to reconvene on June 10 to approve the language of the letter.

Commissioners also voted 4-2 to approve a $4.1 million CARES Act-funded block grant to municipalities. The grant will be distributed to pay for future 2020 election expenses. Monies can be spent by municipalities on cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), extra staff, new equipment, and other election-related expenses.