Officials around the state are urging voters to vote absentee this year to avoid crowds and lines at the polls during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Absentee voting is a practice that is often used by folks who are temporarily living elsewhere, like a college student, or someone who knows they won’t be able to make it to the polls on election day.
But in the age of a pandemic, that’s going to change, and with it comes a lot of questions.
What is absentee voting?
Voting absentee is a way to cast your ballot before election day. Wisconsin offers it for every election.
You do not need to provide a reason for voting absentee, and any eligible, registered Wisconsin voter can choose this method.
How can I vote absentee?
There are two ways to vote early in Wisconsin: by mail or in-person at your clerk’s office.
How do I request a ballot to be mailed to me?
To get your ballot mailed to you, there are a few steps you’ll need to complete first and things you’ll need to remember to include.
1. Make sure you’re registered to vote.
If you’ve recently voted at your current address before and haven’t moved since, you should be good.
But you can still register online at myvote.wi.gov until Monday, March 30, by midnight. If you miss this deadline, you’ll need to register in person, either at your clerk’s office or at your polling place on election day.
2. Request your ballot be mailed to you
You should include the date of the election they’re requesting a ballot for, name, voting address, mailing address (if different), birth date, contact information and a photo or copy of your ID.
How do I fill out my mail-in ballot at home and mail it back?
Once your ballot is mailed to you, you can almost fill it out exactly as you would at the polls, but there are a few steps needed to do it correctly.
1. Fill it out in front of a witness
2. You and the witness will need to sign the certified return envelope, and the witness must print their address on it.
3. Place your ballot in the signed envelope and mail it back. These envelopes are all pre-stamped and pre-addressed.
Your ballot must be mailed in time to reach your clerk’s office by the time polls close at 8 p.m. on April 7. But you can also drop your ballot off at your clerk or city’s drop box, or at your polling place on election day if you’re worried you won’t reach them in time.
What if I’m social distancing alone and don’t have anyone to be a witness?
Even under the unique circumstances, you still need a witness to be present when voting at home and sign your ballot.
La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said you might have to get creative — have your neighbor watch you through your window and slide them the ballot through the door to sign, or have someone at a store be your witness when you’re out getting groceries.
How do I vote early in-person?
You can still go to your local clerk’s office and vote in-person before the election if you don’t want to use a mailed ballot.
You’ll need your valid ID, and proof of residence if you need to register at the same time.
You must fill out the requested ballot in-person that day — you cannot take it and fill it out and bring it back/mail it back.
Voting early in-person can be done until April 3.
When is the deadline to vote absentee?
There are a couple of important dates to remember for voting absentee:
- March 30 at midnight — deadline to register to vote online (you can still register in-person after this date)
- April 2 at 5 p.m. — deadline to request a ballot be mailed to you
- April 3 — deadline to vote early at your clerk’s office
- April 7 by 8 p.m. — Election Day, and date your ballot must reach your clerk’s office by mail
How early should I mail my absentee ballot back to my clerk’s office to make sure it reaches them before election day?
There is no exact advice on when you should mail it to ensure it reaches your clerk in time. Much of La Crosse’s mail goes to the Twin Cities first, so be conscious of that.
If you’re worried about it reaching your clerk in time by mail, you can drop it off at your municipality’s dropbox until election day, and at your polling place on actual election day.
Is there a way to make sure my ballot reached my clerk by mail?
If you’ve requested the ballot online through myvote.wi.gov, you can track the progress of the ballot until it is reached and processed by your clerk. There’s no method to confirm it has gotten to your clerk through the other requesting methods, though.
Is there a possibility that clerks will run out of ballots and envelopes to mail?
In La Crosse County, there is a “healthy” supply of ballots and envelopes, according to Dankmeyer, because they already anticipated a larger turnout for this spring election. But they have emergency printing options even if the stock does get low.
Do the absentee ballots look different than regular ones?
The ballots are exactly the same, aside from possible markings on an absentee ballot that helps you fold it correctly to mail it back.
Do I still need an ID to vote absentee?
By state law, a valid state-issued ID is still required to be showing in order to vote, even absentee. The most common form is a valid Wisconsin driver’s license, but other acceptable forms of ID are listed online at bringit.wi.gov.
A copy or photo of your ID should be sent with your request for a mailed ballot, or it can be shown in-person when voting early at your clerk’s office.
What are the most common reasons an absentee ballot is rejected?
The only reason an absentee ballot can be rejected, aside from signs of tampering, are if the voter and witness did not sign the ballot and the witness did not print their address on it. If a ballot is turned in without these, the clerk will mail it back and the process will start again.
What happens to a ballot after it’s mailed to your clerk’s office?
It remains sealed until election day, when it’s delivered to your polling place and included in the regular count of votes.
If my ballot reaches my clerk’s office after election day, can it still be counted?
Any ballots that don’t reach your clerk’s office or polling place by 8 p.m. on April 7 will not be able to be counted.
Are return envelopes pre-stamped and pre-addressed?
Yes! You will not need to buy and place a stamp on the envelope, and the correct address will already be printed.
What if my city hall or clerk’s office is closed right now?
Many municipalities are adjusting their hours or modes of operation to make sure people can still come in and vote in safe ways, so it’s important to check out their updates online or call them to make sure you know exactly when, where and how you can vote.
Both La Crosse and Onalaska have opened parts of their city halls to allow people to come in and vote during limited hours.
In the village of Rockland, they’re offering curbside voting for folks who don’t want to get out of their vehicle.
And some towns are moving polling locations to make sure the room is large enough to accommodate large voting crowds.
A list of municipal clerks in La Crosse County is provided on its website, where you can find contact information. You can also visit your municipality’s website to stay updated on any voting place changes.
In this Series
- 51 updates
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.