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Early Voting - 10 Point Proposal - August 2013

       Wisconsin’s “early voting” is actually in-person-absentee (IPA) voting, which is quite labor intensive. 

       IPA voting is run by the municipalities, which vary tremendously in size.  This makes it difficult to meet the two goals of standardizing hours and standardizing the number of voters assigned to each location.  There are currently no minimum or maximum hours.  There is one early voting location with 288,000 voters assigned to it; and probably hundreds of other early voting locations with less than 1,000 voters assigned.

It may not be possible to solve all the early voting issues, but we can take steps to alleviate them.  Items 1 to 8 improve our current system of in-person-absentee voting.  Items 9 and 10 take preliminary steps towards improvements in the future.

Proposal for legislation

1)     County clerks would be required to run IPA early voting on three weekend days before November elections.  The days would be the 17th, 10th, and 9th day before the election.  Hours would be 8 to 4 on the two Saturdays, and 10 to 4 on the one Sunday.  Anyone in line at 4 p.m. would be allowed to vote.  These would be the only mandated hours for either county or municipality.  The county seat would be the default location, but with the permission of the county board, the clerk may use a different location.  Only one site per day is allowed for countywide voting.  If a municipality within the county were also conducting Saturday IPA early voting, the county would not be required to include that municipality in the county operation.  County clerks may arrange with municipal clerks to conduct the county IPA early voting. 

2)      Municipalities would continue to run IPA early voting sites, although there would be new restrictions on hours.  Maximum hours would be 7:30 to 6:00 on weekdays.  (This matches the hours in AB-54 by Representative Duey Strobel.)   Maximum weekend hours would be 8 to 4 on Saturdays, and 10 to 4 on Sundays.  There is no minimum for municipalities. (Currently there are no minimums or maximums).

3)      All county IPA early voting sites would be required to have voting equipment for those with special needs during the hours they are open.  All municipalities over 10,000 (approximately 50 municipalities, according to the Blue Book) would also have this requirement.  This equipment is now required at every polling place in America on Election Day, but many disabled voters prefer to vote early.

4)      Municipalities would be allowed to establish additional satellite locations for early voting.  Municipalities over 150,000 would be able to establish up to five total sites.  Municipalities between 39,000 and 150,000 would be able to have up to three total sites.  Municipalities below 39,000 would be able to have two sites.  (These are the same dividing lines used in 5.18(2) for establishing ward sizes, and are generally the dividing lines between classes of cities.)

5)      Express language should be added to the statutes prohibiting electioneering within 100 feet, and ensuring privacy for filling out the ballot at these locations.  These protections should be similar to those at Election Day polling places.

6)      There would continue to be late registration at all early voting locations.

7)      The GAB would be required to promulgate security rules for ballots during IPA voting, and should report to the standing committees on rule progress until fully promulgated.

8)     Current statute 6.84(1) describes absentee voting as “wholly outside the traditional safeguards of the polling place.”  This is not correct as regards to IPA.   IPA can have protections similar to Election Day voting.   Correct statute 6.4(1) by inserting “mail-in” before both instances of “absentee ballot.” 

Current 6.84(1)  “The legislature finds that voting is a constitutional right, the vigorous exercise of which should be strongly encouraged. In contrast, voting by absentee ballot is a privilege exercised wholly outside the traditional safeguards of the polling place. The legislature finds that the privilege of voting by absentee ballot must be carefully regulated to prevent the potential for fraud or abuse; to prevent overzealous solicitation of absent electors who may prefer not to participate in an election; to prevent undue influence on an absent elector to vote for or against a candidate or to cast a particular vote in a referendum; or other similar abuses.”

Laying Groundwork for Long Term Changes in Early Voting

9)     Legislation should authorize a pilot program of early voting where the voter deposits the ballot directly into the ballot box or voting machine.  This form of early voting is conducted in many states.  The pilot program would be overseen by the GAB.  It was part of a GAB staff recommendation in their 2009 report (page 21) on early voting.  The benefit would be a major reduction in labor in handling absentee ballots.

10)  In non-statutory language, the GAB shall report to the standing committees on the steps needed to transfer the authority to specify the purchase of (and possibly the responsibility to fund) voting machines from the municipalities to the counties.  This report should also investigate where the authority and funding source would lie for possible future acquisition of electronic poll books.


2011 Act 23 limited early voting to 12 days.  Before that act, IPA early voting could start when the ballots were available, providing as much as 30 days of early voting.

If in-person-absentee voting is curtailed, people who cannot vote on Election Day are forced into voting by mail.  This is less secure than in-person absentee voting.  In-person-absentee balloting can have many of the same protections available on Election Day at the polling place.  Although our statutes could be strengthened in this regard, generally there is privacy, no electioneering, and no coercion, when filling out a ballot for early voting.

In December of 2009, dozens of clerks testified to the GAB on the overwhelming demands places upon them by in-person-absentee voting in November 2008.  They stated that in-person-absentee on the immediate days before the election was not feasible for either their health or running a quality operation on Election Day.  As a result, 2011 Act 23 eliminated in-person-absentee voting on the three days before the election.  This reasonable clause should stay in place.

AB-54, authored by Representative Strobel, would limit weekday hours to 7:30 am to 6 pm.

This proposal uses those hours as a maximum for weekday IPA early voting.

AB-92, authored by Representative Sandy Pasch, would allow municipalities to establish unlimited additional locations for early voting.  This was recommended by GAB staff in their 2009 report on early voting, page 18.

This proposal would allow the larger municipalities to establish additional early voting sites.  This is a step toward alleviating the current mammoth inequity.  Below are listed some examples of the number of people in the municipality (according to the 2010 census), divided by the maximum number of sites.

Milwaukee (5 sites) 119,000                   Madison (5 sites) 41,000

Green Bay (largest of the second group, 3 sites) 34,000

Fond du Lac (smallest of the second group, 3 sites) 14,000

Beloit (largest of the third group, one site) 37,000

This proposal includes having the GAB investigate giving authority to the counties to determine what voting equipment is used in the county.  As new equipment is purchased, this will ensure standardized equipment throughout the county, allowing future transition away from in-person-absentee.  With modern optical scan tabulators, early voters will be able to place ballots directly into voting machines as is currently done on Election Day.  This will greatly reduce the labor involved with in-person-absentee voting.  (This does not require statewide standardization of voting equipment.)

Electronic poll books have the potential to improve security, accuracy, and recording of voter history for both early and Election Day voting.

GAB early voting report from December 17, 2009

Weekend or Holiday Voting

Here are ideas that have surfaced for improving access to the polls by making election day a holiday.

Senator Herb Kohl's 2005 bill to move election day to a weekend.  Introduced again in 2008 as S.2638.  Kohl's column in April 2008.

Fair Elections Wisconsin letter to Senator Kohl suggesting a Wisconsin pilot of weekend voting.

Statewide school holiday letter

Veterans day coincide with election day, by Carter-Ford report, 2001

Holiday for state workers on Election Day, by Rep. Josh Zepnick.  Non-support letter by League of Women Voters of Wisconsin

Contact Paul Malischke about items to be added, broken links, if the status is not up to date, or with your comments.       Last updated Wednesday, September 20, 2017