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Despite fears, Wisconsin elections leader says state ready

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chief elections official in the presidential battleground of Wisconsin said Tuesday that the state is prepared for the November election, despite fears over security, the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to process an expected record-high number of mailed-in absentee ballots.

Wisconsin elections officials have been meeting weekly with Postal Service representatives to prepare and troubleshoot for the November election, said the state’s chief elections official Meagan Wolfe. She detailed the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s preparedness report at a commission meeting Tuesday, nine weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

“The coordination and ground work has really been critical for us to address issues as they come in,” Wolfe said. “I’m sure we’re going to run into other issues as we approach the November election.”

There are concerns nationally about the Postal Service’s ability to process the expected increase in mail-in ballots given concerns about the safety of voting in person during the pandemic. In Wisconsin’s April presidential primary election, nearly 2,700 absentee ballots in Milwaukee were not sent and about 1,600 in the Fox Valley were not processed because of computer glitches and mailing problems.

Wolfe said despite weekly meetings with postal officials, the state has still not gotten an answer on what went wrong with the Postal Service, Wolfe said.

Commissioner Dean Knudson said there will always be problems with entrusting a ballot to the Postal Service, no matter how much work is done to prepare.

“If you really want to make sure that your ballot is cast and completely secure, the one way to do that is cast it in person,” said Knudson, one of three Republicans on the panel that also has three Democrats.

More than 3 million people are expected to vote in November, with around 2 million expected to be done absentee by mail and the rest in person at the polls. Usually, only about 6% of registered voters cast ballots absentee. That increased to 60% in the April election. The commission on Tuesday mailed 2.7 million letters to most registered voters telling them how to request an absentee ballot.

As of Tuesday, more than 919,000 absentee ballots had been requested by voters. Those ballots were to be mailed on Sept. 17 and can be requested up until the Thursday before the election.

Ballots must be received by election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day. A federal lawsuit brought by Democrats and their allies seeks to extend that deadline in anticipation of a crush of mail-in ballots that may not be received by the current deadline.

Election officials have long stressed that voters who are voting absentee should return their ballots as soon as possible in case they are delayed. The Postal Service has cautioned it could take up to a week to deliver a ballot.

Many municipalities across Wisconsin, including Madison and Milwaukee, are installing secure drop boxes where voters can drop their ballots and they will be picked up by local election officials, bypassing the Postal Service.

The wide-ranging, 126-page report discussed Tuesday covered many aspects of the upcoming election, including steps being taken to protect poll workers and voters from COVID-19; election security; improvements to the voter registration system; and upgrades to the website where voters can request absentee ballots and check the status of their ballot.

Wisconsin’s handling of its April presidential primary, where there were long lines for just a handful of open polling stations in Milwaukee, drew bipartisan criticism. Despite concerns about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases as a result of that election, there was no evidence of a significant uptick. The August statewide primary election ran more smoothly, with more polling places open and no lines like in April.

Wisconsin will again be in the spotlight in November as one of a handful of states that could determine the outcome of the presidential race. President Donald Trump narrowly carried Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Polls so far this year again show a tight race with Democrat Joe Biden.

Elections in Wisconsin are administered by 1,922 local election clerks, with nearly 2,500 polling places with more than 30,000 poll workers. Recruiting poll workers has been a problem during the pandemic, leading to calls for volunteers among public employees, high school and college students and others. Wisconsin National Guard members, who helped staff polls at elections in April and August, were also expected to assist again in November.

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