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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.

Registration

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