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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Wisconsin Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 25, 2020
Published: August 25, 2020

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s Toolkits for Activ­ists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Polit­ical Context  |  What’s in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Admin­is­ter­ing an elec­tion under pandemic condi­tions requires under­tak­ing steps to keep voting access­ible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the prob­lems Covid-19 poses, what prepared­ness meas­ures Wiscon­sin has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some polit­ical context for your advocacy.

Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local offi­cials have a lot of respons­ib­il­ity over elec­tions. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state offi­cials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we high­light some examples of changes that local elec­tions offi­cials can also make with this symbol:🔸

Polit­ical Context

Below is a list of the relev­ant offi­cials and inform­a­tion about the legis­lat­ive session.

Governor: Tony Evers (D)  

Wiscon­sin Elec­tion Commis­sion Admin­is­trator: Meagan Wolfe

Legis­lature: House (R) Senate (R)

Legis­lat­ive Session: Legis­lature meets year-round. Either the legis­lature or the governor may call a special legis­lat­ive session.

Local Elec­tions Offi­cials: In Wiscon­sin, local clerks share respons­ib­il­it­ies for admin­is­ter­ing elec­tions. You can look up indi­vidual local clerks here.

What Wiscon­sin Has and What’s Needed

Three prior­it­ies. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elec­tions systems for success during a pandemic: regis­tra­tion, mail voting, and in-person voting.


Covid-19 may disrupt the tradi­tional ways Amer­ic­ans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or regis­ter­ing at govern­ment agen­cies. In the crucial weeks before the regis­tra­tion dead­line, postal service disrup­tions may lead many regis­tra­tion forms to arrive at elec­tion offices after the dead­line.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Wiscon­sin Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter regis­tra­tion
  • Elec­tion Day voter regis­tra­tion

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter regis­tra­tion dead­lines based on condi­tions in the state

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previ­ous elec­tions. Allow­ing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Elec­tion Day and decreases the expos­ure risk to Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Wiscon­sin Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse 
  • Online tool for request­ing an absentee ballot
  • Provides pre-paid post­age for voting by mail

Changes Still Needed:

  • Elim­in­ate ID require­ment to vote by mail
  • Elim­in­ate notary or witness require­ment for return of mail ballot
  • Accept late-arriv­ing ballots post­marked by Elec­tion Day
  • Provide post-elec­tion notice and cure oppor­tun­ity for defects on absentee-ballot envel­ope, includ­ing signa­ture mismatch or miss­ing signa­tures
  • Send absentee-ballot applic­a­tions to all voters who have not yet applied

In-Person Voting

Even with expan­ded mail voting oppor­tun­ity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disen­fran­chise voters without Inter­net and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accord­ance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures Wiscon­sin Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure suffi­cient polling places are open and resourced on Elec­tion Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting loca­tions🔸
  • Extend the dates and hours for in-person early voting🔸
  • Take proper public health precau­tions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold train­ing sessions for polling-place work­ers well in advance of Elec­tion Day, so that elec­tion offi­cials can better anti­cip­ate prob­lems with staff­ing and logist­ics🔸
  • Increase access to curb­side voting at polling loca­tions

Advocacy Focus: Protect­ing Polling Places

No matter how prepared Wiscon­sin is as a matter of policy, elec­tions offi­cials and advoc­ates must stay vigil­ant about ensur­ing safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for every­one all the way through Elec­tion Day. Here are some import­ant things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Wiscon­sin and what rules govern the process:

  • The Wiscon­sin Elec­tion Commis­sion has made block grants avail­able using CARES Act fund­ing for local clerks to apply for in order to cover pandemic-related elec­tion expenses.🔸
  • Polling loca­tions must be estab­lished at least 30 days before an elec­tion. The estab­lish­ment of polling loca­tions is a respons­ib­il­ity of the board of elec­tion commis­sion­ers in cities with over 500,000 resid­ents, but it is the respons­ib­il­ity of local govern­ing bodies in local­it­ies with less than 500,000 resid­ents.🔸
  • The cost for mater­i­als neces­sary for conduct­ing elec­tions must be paid by the county or muni­cip­al­ity having the elec­tion.🔸
  • Each local clerk is respons­ible for setting their own dates and hours for early voting within the para­met­ers provided in state law.🔸

Key Dates for Wiscon­sin Elec­tions

  • July 22, 2020: Dead­line to register by mail or online for the Primary Elec­tion
  • August 11, 2020: Primary Elec­tion Day
  • Octo­ber 14, 2020: Dead­line to register by mail or online for the General Elec­tion
  • Octo­ber 20, 2020: First day of in-person General Elec­tion absentee voting at muni­cipal clerks’ offices (Check with local offices for exact dates and times)
  • Octo­ber 29, 2020 (5:00 p.m.): Dead­line for voters to request a mailed absentee ballot for the General Elec­tion
  • Novem­ber 1, 2020: Last day of in-person General Elec­tion absentee voting at muni­cipal clerks’ offices (Check with local offices for exact dates and times)
  • Novem­ber 3, 2020: General Elec­tion Day