The Wisconsin Elections Commission ruled Friday local clerks should accept some absentee ballots that weren’t expressly postmarked with a date on or before Tuesday, but only if the U.S. Postal Service certifies the stamp they bear was used only on election day.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the state could only accept absentee ballots in the spring election if they were postmarked by election day and received by Monday.
Still, the commission instructed local clerks to accept ballots with the “APR 2020” stamp if the commission received a signed statement from a “Postal Service Authority” affirming that stamp was only used on ballots received on election day.
That’s one of two pieces of guidance the panel unanimously signed off on in the wake of clerks receiving ballots with at least eight different types of postmarks, ranging from those with a mark indicating the day, month and year they were processed to others that bear an illegible mark to handwritten affirmations of receipt.
Commissioners also agreed all ballots that bear a postmark with the date of April 7 or before should be counted, affirming the narrow U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued on the eve of the election.
But on the wide variance of other forms of postmarks on absentee ballots, the panel could only come to consensus on a narrow subset: those which bore a circular stamp reading “APR 2020.”
Administrator Meagan Wolfe said she heard from a regional USPS spokesman that branches were told to use a round hand stamp on absentee ballots that arrived on election day to indicate they had been received on time.
But the issue, Wolfe said, boiled down to a lack of communication from the Postal Service. She said she hadn’t been able to speak with anyone at the postal service beyond the regional level and multiple requests to see the guidance issued to postal workers on using the hand stamp on ballots received on April 7 hadn’t been fulfilled.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting at times devolved into verbal sparring, particularly when the panel split along party lines on a separate pair of motions.
The first, from Republican Bob Spindell and backed by Chair Dean Knudsen, would have made ineligible any ballot received after election day that didn’t have a postmark indicating a date on or before April 7.
Dems charged that would disenfranchise voters who turned in a ballot on time but whose post office used one of the many varieties of stamps that did not have specific dates.
The second proposal, moved Dem Ann Jacobs, would have advised clerks to count all ballots received by clerks from the postal service on April 8, regardless of postmark.
Jacobs argued it wasn’t possible for a ballot put in the mail to be received by a clerk the same day, thus any ballots received by April 8 would have been in Postal Service custody. Both Knudsen and Republican Marge Bostelmann said they would support the move if Jacobs accepted an amendment requiring the Postal Service to affirm in an affidavit that the timeline she posed was accurate. But Jacobs demurred, saying it should be obvious that mail can’t be processed in one day.
“We’re pretending we don’t know that, and that’s what I’m struggling with because we all are sitting here knowing those ballots were mailed on the 7th,” she said.
The commission also unanimously said it didn’t have the legal authority to make changes to the circulation process for nomination papers.
The move comes after the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association wrote a letter to the commission this week saying the process, which begins Wednesday, “is contrary to the health emergency orders and science of how the virus spreads” and called for the panel to consider alternatives.
Commissioners said such a move wasn’t within their purview but reaffirmed so-called “single signed” nomination papers — those which a person signs as both a nominator and circulator — are valid.
Current law requires signatures to be turned into the Elections Commission by June 1. Assembly candidates need a minimum of 200 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, while those seeking a seat in the Senate need at least 400.