Milwaukee's central count facility on Election Day. Photo by Adam Kelnhofer, Nov. 3, 3030.

The state’s top election official clarified poll workers are allowed to fix some mistakes made by absentee voters as the Trump campaign charges officials in Milwaukee County “tainted” an estimated 15 percent of absentee ballots.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien in a statement Wednesday cited “reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties” though didn’t detail any issues with the Wisconsin vote in indicating the campaign will seek an “immediate” recount.

Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh yesterday told NPR that some ballots in Milwaukee County, which tipped the balance of the state to Joe Biden early Wednesday morning, had been “cured” in red pen by poll workers. According to NPR, Murtaugh said local officials and not voters “corrected or added information to the ballot itself.”

“We estimate that 15-20 percent of absentee ballots in Milwaukee County were tainted in this manner,” Murtaugh said. “This is also only an estimate because our legal volunteers were prevented from having meaningful access all of the time.”

A Trump campaign spokeswoman in Wisconsin was not immediately available for comment. See more from the NPR story in headlines below.

Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe told reporters yesterday under state law, poll workers can cure some deficiencies on absentee ballot certificates but not on the ballots themselves.

Both a voter choosing to cast an absentee ballot and their witness must sign and provide their address on those certificates, which accompany absentee ballots as they are returned to local clerks.

Wolfe said a missing signature must be cured by the voter or witness, but election officials can fill in a missing address on absentee ballots returned through the mail if they can readily find that information.

“Let’s say, they got two ballots back from a husband and wife and they could see that the person’s address was right there, they’re able to add that address information, but certainly not the signature,” she said.

As for in-person absentee ballots, known as early voting, Wolfe said the witness is a member of the municipal clerk’s staff. Because in-person absentee ballots are issued directly through the statewide system, if the witness forgot to sign the ballot, Wolfe said the member of the clerk’s staff who issued the ballot and served as a witness has “an opportunity to come down and cure that on election day.”

“They actually know definitively who that witness was because they can see that in the system,” she said.

Jodie Tabak, a spokeswoman for the Milwaukee mayor’s office, told WisPolitics that corrections were made in accordance with state law and “we use red pen to be more transparent than just initialing [the address corrections],” she added.

“The practice of locating and providing a witness address is the guidance of the WEC,” Tabak said in an email. “It has been the guidance provided since the law was enacted.”

Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, told WisPolitics “the only thing we cure ourselves on the ballot [certificate], either by a phone call to the voter or using our databases, is witness addresses.”

Wolfe also disputed the notion that observers were “prevented from having meaningful access all of the time.”

She deferred to officials in Milwaukee on specific details, but noted some polling places limited observer capacity in an effort to “keep everybody safe” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still Wolfe said jurisdictions that chose to limit capacity were advised to make sure both sides were allowed an observer. The state further advised those jurisdictions to set up a schedule for rotation “to make sure that people had opportunities to observe.”

“It might’ve meant that they couldn’t cram 20 observers into an area like they could before and they could only fit four,” she said. “Each point in place had to make those determinations on how to keep everyone safe.”

See an absentee ballot certificate here.

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