In part due to COVID-19 concerns, election officials have seen a bump in absentee ballot requests throughout the year.
With less than 50 days to go before the Nov. 3 presidential election, tri-state county officials shared what information absentee voters need to know before voting by mail.
Last week, absentee ballot request forms were mailed to all active Iowa voters from the office of Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate so they could request a ballot if they haven’t already.
“The county is not sending anything out,” Dubuque County Auditor Denise Dolan said. “We knew they were going to get them from plenty of other places.”
Voters might have received other absentee ballot forms from Iowa Democrats, Iowa Republicans or other third parties, she said. Those groups don’t have county data on who has already requested ballots and may send repeat forms.
Voters only have to request and send back one absentee form. Forms ask Iowa voters for their name, birthday, current address, election type and signature. They also request either a driver’s license number, non-operator ID number or a PIN number on voter ID cards.
Dolan said Dubuque County officials can begin mailing ballots Oct. 5. Ballots cannot be mailed after 5 p.m. Oct. 24, so all requests must be received before then.
Typically, she said, the county receives 22,000 ballot requests. This year, county officials are anticipating closer to 33,000.
“If they want to vote early, they should go ahead and get that request form in,” Dolan said.
All Wisconsin municipal clerks were supposed to begin mailing requested absentee ballots by Thursday, but a state lawsuit halted the process.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Monday that Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins will not be on November ballots in the state. Municipal clerks had been told to stop mailing ballots until the matter was settled in case ballots had to be reprinted with Hawkins’ ticket.
“We do have people calling about them, but we were told by the Elections Commission we cannot mail them until the litigation is over,” Grant County Clerk Linda Gebhard said. “At around six (Monday) night, we got the call that the litigation was over, so we’re in a delay right now.”
The legal matter paused ballot printing, Gebhard said, but the county hopes to start mailing them as soon as possible.
“We’ll try our best,” she said.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Grant County had 4,658 absentee ballot requests as of Tuesday. Statewide totals are just over 1 million.
Though Thursday is the deadline for clerks to mail out absentee ballots, residents can continue to request ballots until Oct. 29. However, the Wisconsin Elections Commission website warns that Oct. 29 is often too late to request a ballot in order to have it returned to municipal clerks by election day.
Gebhard said the clerk’s office also has received calls regarding confusion about election mailers, many of which are sent by third party interest groups without correct ballot information. Wisconsin absentee ballots require a driver’s license and proof of residency.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission also sent out a mailer around Labor Day meant to remind residents about all voting options, which inadvertently has prompted more questions.
“It’s causing a lot of confusion, because people see that and think, ‘Oh, I must not be registered to vote,’ but that’s not necessarily true,” Gebhard said.
The best way to clarify questions regarding voter registration and absentee ballots is to directly contact municipal clerks, she added.
Jo Daviess County Clerk Angela Kaiser said the county will begin sending out ballots to those who have requested an absentee ballot on Sept. 24. Requests must include a voter’s name, home address and address where the ballot should be sent.
Like Wisconsin, all requests to vote by mail must be received by county clerks before Oct. 29.
People can either mail in absentee ballots or bring them to the clerk’s office, Kaiser said. However, she added that they don’t want more people in the clerk’s office than needed due to COVID-19.
So far, she said, the county has had over 2,700 applications to vote by mail, many more than the amount it would usually have at this time.
“If they can vote in person, we’re encouraging that,” Kaiser said. “But if they can’t, they should do it by mail.”