Wisconsin election security; state clerks gear up for your ballots

Clerks around Wisconsin are getting ready for you to vote. Early voting starts next week – and absentee ballots are already being returned. Those ballots will be locked up until election day.

With the state's debates for governor and U.S. Senate done, now it comes down to your vote. Do not expect a winner right when the polls close on Tuesday, Nov. 8. 

"On election night, many of us would hope that we would have electoral results by 805. And that cannot happen. And the reason that can't happen is because of all the security pieces in our systems and the way that they're designed. We cannot reject absentee ballots that are missing a voter signature or witness signature or witness address until 8pm. They must finish processing those absentee ballots after 8 o'clock," said Lisa Tollefson, Rock County Clerk.

Lisa Tollefson, Rock County Clerk

Wisconsin clerks have sent out almost 420,000 absentee ballots. The state's election commission reports about 38%, roughly 161,000, have been returned. 

"Once an absentee ballot is returned to us, it is our job to verify that that ballot looks like it hasn't been tampered with, that the certificate is completed on the outside," said Marie Moe, Portage Clerk & President of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.

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That means the voter's signature, as well as the witness' address and signature. 

When the polls open on Nov. 8, Wisconsin clerks can finally count those absentee ballots.

"Your poll workers do everything in twos on election day. There is a check and balance throughout that entire system. Our systems are extremely secure, because we are heavily encrypted. Our election systems are standalone, they're not connected to any other systems," Tollefson said.

Before the voting tabulators run, clerks will publicly test them. Polling places are also open to the public.

With heightened attention on election processes, two Wisconsin clerks who joined a media briefing with Secure Democracy USA said they are not worried about aggressive poll watchers, but do have contingency plans in place. 

"We’ve always had good success with our poll watchers. They have been knowledgeable. They are not there to create a problem, or an issue. Certainly, obviously, there’s always a first time for everything," Moe said. "We do have plans in place if there gets to be a problem."

Marie Moe, Portage Clerk & President of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association

"As clerks, we always have contingency plans for everything. You never know when you’re going to have a flood and have to move a polling location. So, we have them for all different types of things," Tollefson said.

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Counting continues until all votes are counted. Then, municipal and county canvassing will double-check all the math – making sure votes and voters add up. The state then does a random audit – a hand recount of randomly picked wards to make sure the voting machines counted correctly.

If you want to register online or by mail, the deadline is October 19. If using the mail, then the application must be postmarked by that day.

You can still register in person in a clerk's office through the Friday before the election, which is Nov. 4. You can also register in-person at your polling place on Election Day.