A split Elections Commission voted to move ahead with an emergency rule that would continue existing agency guidance to local clerks on filling in missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot envelopes.

That move, approved 4-2, came after the commission deadlocked on an alternative that would’ve required local clerks to contact voters before filling in or correcting information on the absentee ballot envelopes.

Dem appointee Julie Glancey, a former municipal clerk, raised concerns that requiring a voter to be contacted before information was filled in or corrected would be problematic in larger communities compared to smaller ones.

Commissioner Dean Knudson, a GOP appointee, said during the hearing the local clerk once contacted him and his wife about information on the absentee ballot envelopes they sent in.

Glancey said while the clerk knew Knudson because they live in a small community and could pick up the phone to call him, that isn’t the case in a place like Milwaukee. Voters aren’t required to include their emails or phone numbers on absentee ballot envelopes, and clerks could have to hunt for the information or risk delays by sending a postcard. Then voters would likely call back after hours because they’re working during the day.

“How much phone tag do you want these clerks to do?” Glancey asked.

Marge Bostelmann, a former clerk and a GOP appointee, argued the state should be “much more aggressive on the front end” in requiring voters to fill out absentee ballot envelopes, including the address and signature for voters and their witnesses. Contacting the voter first before filling in or correcting information would make them more accountable in the process, she said.

“I don’t think that asking someone to do that is above and beyond,” she said.

Bostelmann sided with the three Dem members on the second motion after the first one failed.

The issue of missing or incorrect information on absentee ballot envelopes became an issue in the 2020 election as former President Trump sought unsuccessfully to overturn the election results. He and his supporters argued the commission had exceeded its authority in directing clerks to fill in missing information or correct mistakes.

But Dems countered that the commission put that advice in place ahead of the 2016 election that Trump won, pointing out Republicans didn’t complain at the time.

The commission took its action last night after the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules directed the body to establish its advice as an emergency rule or withdraw the guidance issued in 2016. The process now gives the Legislature oversight of the agency’s advice.

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