Milwaukee's absentee ballot count underway, could last overnight

Volunteers began counting absentee ballots in Milwaukee on Tuesday morning, Nov. 3. Results are not expected until the early morning Wednesday.

The ballot-counting machines at Milwaukee’s Central Counting Facility can count 1,200-2,000 ballots per hour. There are three shifts of volunteers, counters, and observers — 400 total.

"The real winners in all of this have been our early voters," Mayor Tom Barrett said. "We’ve had historic voters turnout."

The group of 400 volunteers doesn't expect to finish the counting until 3-4 a.m. on Wednesday morning. That doesn't mean something went wrong. Rather, election officials are doing their jobs to make sure that every legitimate ballot gets counted.

Election workers count ballots at Milwaukee’s Central Counting Facility

As of 9 p.m. on election night, poll workers had tabulated more than 102,000 absentee ballots -- or about 60%. One hundred workers volunteered to stay overnight until the last ballot is scanned into the counting machine.

Once the count is over, police will take an encrypted flash drive to the Milwaukee County clerk, where it will be uploaded and the final numbers will be posted to the county's website.

Election officials say everything is going smoothly, and they are impressed by the dedication of their poll workers and Milwaukee voters.

Election inspectors start by reviewing return envelopes for required information. Then, they record ballots in the poll book. Once a voter number is assigned to the voter, each envelope will be opened, the ballot will be removed and flattened and then it’d finally processed on the voting equipment. 

Election workers can reject ballots for missing information. Political observers from both parties, who were out on Election Day, can challenge those decisions.

Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, could not say how many ballots have been rejected thus far; those numbers won't be available for a few days, but there have been few challenges.

A record year for absentee ballots, election officials said 169,341 were returned out of more than 181,000 issued. There were more than 318,000 registered voters in the city.

"I think it’s amazing how many people, during a pandemic, continue to believe in this country, believe in this community and want to be involved in our democratic process," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. 

The mayor didn’t want to guess what overall voter turnout will be for this election, but he expects it to top 2016 turnout.

There are multiple livestreams from the City of Milwaukee’s central count facility. Watch the streams here:

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