Dane County leading state in absentee ballot returns

MADISON, Wis. — About one in five absentee ballots returned to clerks statewide came from Dane County.

That’s according to the latest absentee ballot totals released from the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Tuesday morning. A total of 545,349 ballots have been returned across Wisconsin, with just over 100,000 of those in Dane County.

The county leads even the more populous Milwaukee County with ballots returned, and the city of Madison is about one-third of the way to reaching its total votes cast in the 2016 election. More than 50,000 absentee ballots–or more than half of total requests–have been returned to the clerk’s office.

“We have over 50% of our absentees issued already returned to be counted, which is good,” Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl noted. “There are hundreds of voters coming to our office a day to return their absentees in person, and we are receiving thousands of absentees in the mail each day. So it’s reassuring to know voters aren’t necessarily waiting till the very last minute.”

About 16,000 of those were returned during the “Democracy in the Park” events the past two Saturdays. Voters returned about 10,000 ballots the first Saturday of the event where city clerk’s office staff stationed in parks throughout Madison. Republican legislative leaders called the event unlawful, statements which the city’s attorney rebutted. 

Data released Monday of absentee ballot returns by municipality reveal Madison’s neighboring communities are currently more motivated to return their ballots than Milwaukee’s suburbs throughout Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties. The WOW counties, traditionally known for heavy Republican turnout and a key base for GOP candidates, have returned their absentee ballots at a rate of between 15 and 21% of their total ballots cast in 2016, while Madison’s neighbors like Verona, Sun Prairie, Middleton and Fitchburg fall between 30 and 35% return so far of their total turnout four years ago.

There’s a few weeks yet to go for voters throughout the state, and clerks are encouraging registrations sooner rather than later. And for returning ballots, a battle is ongoing in the courts over whether ballots postmarked by Election Day but received at their clerk’s office later can be counted.

“What I’m concerned about is mostly that there may be people waiting until Election Day to register and vote–which is fine,” Witzel-Behl said. “But you could get quarantined or isolated at the last minute.”