Ellie Bruecker is a doctoral student at UW-Madison who lives on the city’s east side. She is also what she describes as an “attempted voter.”
Like many Wisconsinites who’ve been practicing social distancing in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Bruecker requested an absentee ballot to participate in today’s presidential primary.
Last week, federal Judge William Conley ruled that absentee ballots that were returned without a witness’s signature could be counted as long as the voter explained why they were unable to find a witness, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals put a hold on that ruling late Friday night.
Bruecker returned an unwitnessed ballot earlier that day.
“I’m very angry,” Bruecker says. “I think all of the confusion around the election means that this is going to have happened to a number of people who followed the rules, [people] that were following the state order of social distancing and self-isolation, and turning in our ballots without witness signatures, as we were told would be allowed. Then we come to find out that because that rule became out-of-date basically overnight, now we’re disenfranchised. I’m very, very angry.”
According to Reid Magney, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, voters used to be able to try to “beat their ballot to the polls” by voting in-person before their absentee ballot could be counted, but that law was changed in recent years.
“If I had gotten that ballot and not filled it out yet, I could go today and vote in person if I wanted to put my health at risk but because I already turned in a ballot that they will deem incomplete because of the [missing] witness signature, I don’t get to,” Bruecker says.
While some Madisonians won’t be counted, others risked their health to vote in-person today.
Kathy Lynn Sliter is an actor and educator with multiple sclerosis who lives on Madison’s northeast side. Sliter, who has been self-isolating at home since March 11th, didn’t plan on voting today.
“I did not get an absentee ballot in time and I was not going to go vote because [of the danger] and then I don’t know. I woke up this morning, and I was angry,” Sliter says. “It’s really, horribly unfair that there are many, many people that are not going to be able to have a say in the election because of decisions made by both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States. So, I said, I can figure this out. The mask I have is for painting and for sanding, but I thought it was as good as anything [I’d have available] and I put that on [with] gloves and a jacket [to] make sure I was mostly covered.”
Even though many voters were not issued an absentee ballot in time for today’s primary, poll workers are set to process a record number of such ballots.
Abram Herrero is the Chief Election Inspector for Ward 74 on Madison’s southside. Herrero says his polling place, located at Leopold Elementary School, has received six times the number of absentee ballots they usually receive.
“It takes two people to go through that, and we have a big box of them, so that requires some time,” Herrero says. “When other folks are voting, the voters get first dibs on the spots, and then it takes time for us to go through and process all these. It’s easier when there aren’t any voters to go through stacks of those, but there’s people in and out constantly.”
Typically, ballots must be returned by 8pm on election night in order to be counted. Judge Conley ruled that absentee ballots could be counted if they were returned by any means before April 13th, but that meant ballots could be cast after the in-person primary ended.
In a partial reversal of that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballots may be counted until April 13th, but only if they are postmarked by today.
Today’s election results are not expected to be released until April 13th at the earliest.