Local officials in the 38 Wisconsin municipalities that have central counts handed out more than 237,000 absentee ballots to voters for today’s election, according to the latest update from the Elections Commission.

And officials in several of the largest communities with central counts for their absentee ballots say they have taken steps to speed up the process of processing those votes to avoid some of the issues that popped up in 2020.

The Elections Commission today listed more than 67,000 absentee ballots that Milwaukee either mailed to voters or collected during early, in-person voting. By comparison, the city had some 170,000 absentee ballots in the pandemic-affected 2020 election and didn’t finish counting until about 3 a.m. That prompted the false claim of a “vote dump” in the state’s largest city.

Milwaukee Elections Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said the city has added a machine that opens absentee ballot envelopes, which she said significantly speeds up processing them. She predicted the city’s central count would finish processing absentee ballots by 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m.

“We have more staff than we had in 2016 or 2018. We’ve really improved our process,” Woodall-Vogg said.

The tally of absentee ballots isn’t added into Milwaukee County’s unofficial results until all of them are processed at central count. Flash drives with the results are taken to the county, and that will produce a significant bump in Milwaukee County’s unofficial returns at some point tonight. Considering the city’s heavy Dem tilt and that Dems are more likely to vote absentee than Republicans, that is expected to produce significant boosts for the unofficial vote totals of Dem Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes.

Altogether, more than 815,000 absentee ballots had been requested and 811,000 had been mailed to voters or collected during early, in-person voting, according to today’s update from the Elections Commission. There’s often a lag in what is posted by the Elections Commission and local clerks uploading updates. Still, that’s nowhere near the 2 million absentee ballots cast in 2020, but well north of the 565,591 in 2018.

Under state law, communities can’t start processing absentee ballots until polls open on Election Day. The flood of absentee ballots in the 2020 prompted a series of conspiracy theories about the results, particularly after former President Trump and his allies falsely claimed there was a “vote dump” that pushed Joe Biden into the lead as counting continued overnight.

Between the drop in absentee ballots cast in 2022 vs. 2020 and improvements in the process of counting them, several local officials said they expected to finish counting earlier this year than they did two years ago.

The other communities that use central count with the largest number of absentee ballots sent include: Kenosha, 12,192; Wauwatosa, 12,186; Green Bay, 11,560; and Janesville, 9,673.

The completion of Milwaukee’s central count in 2020 pushed Biden past Trump in the unofficial returns collected by The Associated Press and others. Kenosha and Green Bay’s central counts then finished up later that early Wednesday morning, pushing Biden’s lead past 20,000 votes.

Green Bay Clerk Celestine Jeffreys said the city has added a tabulator and performed a time study to see how many workers would be needed to handle the expected load of absentee ballots.

Check https://www.wispolitics.com this evening for updates on today’s election results.

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