At a hearing of the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection, lawmakers heard hours of testimony from election conspiracy theorists in opposition to a bill that would allow election officials to begin processing absentee ballots on the Monday before an election.
The proposal, authored by Republicans, is aimed at addressing a complaint often lodged by election skeptics themselves — the late addition of absentee ballot counts to vote totals.
Republicans in Wisconsin have complained that in the state’s 2018 gubernatorial election and in the 2020 presidential election, they went to bed on election night expecting one result yet when they woke up their candidate had lost because of the late addition of absentee ballot counts from largely Democratic voting cities such as Milwaukee. Republicans have often referred to these additions derisively as “ballot dumps” yet for years lawmakers of both parties and election clerks have pointed to state law that prevents absentee ballots from being opened and processed before polls open on Election Day as the cause of the delays.
“In 2018, in the first Walker-Evers election, I went to bed and Wisconsin went to bed under the impression that Walker had won reelection,” Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), one of the bill’s authors, said. “In 2020, basically the same thing happened. We went to bed thinking one candidate won, and then we wake up and find out these absentee ballots weren’t counted yet and lo and behold, it flips the election by a very, very narrow margin. Results in these elections matter, but also the appearances matter, too. It’s not fair to a losing party, to look like they won and to feel like maybe they were cheated.”
The delays are longer in the few dozen cities that use central count locations to process their absentee ballots. While smaller municipalities process and count absentee ballots at individual polling places, in the central count cities, including Milwaukee, the ballots are all brought to one location.
Under the bill, which earned praise from Democrats and election officials during the testimony Tuesday, central count cities would be required to begin processing on Monday while the rest of the state could start on Monday if they passed a local ordinance stating they will do so.
If passed, the law would allow election workers to only begin processing absentee ballots on Monday, not counting them. That means they’d be able to open the ballot envelope, assign voter numbers and feed the ballot into the voting machine, which tabulates the number of votes but does not yet count which candidates were chosen. At 8 p.m on Monday, the election workers will need to stop working; seal the opened ballots and flash drives containing the vote data and publicly report how many ballots were processed that day.
The aim of the deadline is to prevent ballots from being counted late into the night. Workers would be able to start again Tuesday morning when polls open.
“Clerks across the state have worked very hard over the last few years to help restore the public’s trust in our elections,” Kim Trueblood, the Republican clerk of Marathon County said during her testimony. “Allowing municipalities, giving local control, to choose to have their clerks and election inspectors have an extra day to carefully, accurately and thoroughly process those absentee ballots will only help in that effort.”
Trueblood added that preventing election workers from working late into the night will only serve to make elections more secure and lessen human error.
“The processing of absentee ballots is a very detailed and precise process,” she said. “Election inspectors who have to work into the wee hours of the morning at the end of a 20-hour day in order to get the job completed in an unrealistic time frame are much more likely to make errors. And let’s face it, perception is reality. Let’s remove the barrier that’s in place to getting our election results reported quickly, accurately and efficiently on election night.”
Yet despite the bill’s aim at addressing a regular complaint from groups that believe the 2020 election was stolen, much of the testimony Tuesday came from some of Wisconsin’s most prominent election deniers to oppose the measure.
One member of the public complained that allowing Monday processing would only give election workers “more time to carry out their nefarious activities” while others spent their allotted five minutes rehashing complaints about the 2020 election.
Ranked Choice Voting
The committee on Tuesday also heard testimony on a bipartisan bill that would move the state to a final-five primary system and instant ranked choice runoffs for congressional elections.
In a final-five primary, all candidates in a primary from both major parties and any independents are on the same ballot. The five who receive the most votes advance to the general election where the winner is selected through a ranked choice system.
Under a ranked choice system, voters rank their preferred candidates from one to five. The ballots are tallied and the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. All of the voters who selected that candidate as their first choice will then have their second choice votes added to the first totals and the process repeats until one candidate is left. Voters can choose to rank all five or just one candidate.
Ranked choice voting is used for primary, congressional and presidential elections in Maine and for state, congressional and presidential general elections in Alaska. It’s also used for local elections in nearly four dozen cities.
Proponents of the system said it would force candidates to appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate, instead of primary elections in which partisanship is rewarded and general elections in which independents feel like their choices are lacking.
“This bill has the opportunity to change the divisiveness in Washington, tone down the politics in Wisconsin and get back to a functional democratic republic that Wisconsin voters crave — elections rooted in ideas rather than partisan rhetoric,” Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) said.
Testimony against the proposal included complaints that the system is prone to mistakes, takes longer to determine the winner and is confusing for older voters. In addition to some public opposition, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced a proposal earlier this month for a constitutional amendment that would ban ranked choice voting in the state.
“With the threat of ranked choice voting in Wisconsin, action is needed to prevent it,” Rep. Ty Bodden (R-Stockbridge) said in a statement about the proposed amendment. “Final five and ranked choice voting have proven disastrous for elections nationwide, causing prolonged result announcements when trust in election outcomes is already fragile. We must receive election results on election night, not weeks later. Ranked choice voting is confusing, leading to numerous discarded ballots. In various instances across the country, it resulted in thousands of trashed ballots and counting errors, eroding the fundamental principle of one person, one vote.”
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F12%2F13%2Felection-deniers-oppose-bill-to-process-absentee-ballots-on-monday-before-elections%2F by Henry Redman