The Wisconsin Elections Commission will listen to an appeal from Milwaukee elections officials on Friday, regarding a new state elections rule which could invalidate hundreds of absentee ballots. Some 500 ballots mailed and received in Milwaukee so far don’t include witnesses’ municipality, state, or zip code.
“It’s certainly not so significant that it should result in someone’s ballot not being counted in an election,” said Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht. “You have their signature, you have their address. You can basically confirm the identity of that witness.”
The provision that requires the person who witnesses someone voting absentee provide their complete address, along with their signature, was included in an package ostensibly aimed at election reforms and preventing voter fraud, which was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker earlier this year.
State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) served on the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, where the new rule originated. Zamarripa says Democrats predicted this problem. “We definitely did foresee this could be a problem. And I think that the Republicans who wanted the bill to become law knew that could be a problem as well, and result in votes possibly not being counted.”
Under previous state law, local elections clerks were instructed to count absentee ballots as long as there was a valid witness signature. Now, they’re instructed to reject ballots that don’t have the complete address, including municipality and zip code. Albrecht says hundreds of witnesses in Milwaukee have made omissions, such as filling in a street address but not a municipality.
“Hundreds of ballots have had to be sent back,” Zamarripa said. “And if that’s happening in Milwaukee, that’s not the only place it’s happening.”
Friday’s hearing in Madison will appeal the state’s position that ballots must either be returned to voters, or local officials must contact voters to get their information to add to the ballots.