Group of Wisconsin state lawmakers wants to let clerks start counting absentee ballots early

MADISON, Wis. — Clerks are getting ready – and getting their staff ready – for a long night on Nov. 3.

By the time everything is counted, Wisconsin may not have preliminary results until 2 or 3 in the morning, and that’s on the early side.

Some clerks say there is a better way if they are allowed to start even the day before.

“Other states do that, we should do that,” said Scott McDonell, the Dane County Clerk. “There are safe, secure, transparent ways of getting a jump on this, and I don’t think this is going to change that much. Going forward, more people are going to vote absentee in future elections and it would be nice if we could get some help on the local level from our legislature and our governor.”

That’s what some state lawmakers are pushing for.

A group of 23 Democrats wrote a letter to the leaders in either chamber asking them to call the legislature back to pass something to allow clerks to count early.

Rep. Melissa Sargent was one of them.

“By moving this bill forward it doesn’t mean that clerks would have to use it,” she said. “It gives them another opportunity, something else they would have available to them.”

The clerk in Madison has told News 3 Now she has a plan to have ballots counted on election night, and other municipalities are planning to work late to get them then too.

Official statewide results will take longer to be verified at local, county and state levels, according to Meagan Wolfe, the Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator.

“All those things always take almost a month,” she said. “This election will be no different, right? We’re not going to lessen our requirements, the legal standards for what needs to be done to certify elections. All those things still stand and I think voters need to be aware of that.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he has already shown support for a piece of legislation that would allow voters to feed their own absentee ballots into the voting machine early, though that didn’t pass in the state senate.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment.