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Officials hope new ballot drop box will eliminate confusion as absentee voting trend grows

The city of Wausau used funding from the CARES ACT to install the new drop box
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 7:49 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - There’s a new addition outside Wausau City Hall, arriving just in time for what promises to be a historic election come November.

An absentee ballot box has been installed near the payment drop box and mailbox located on the sidewalk outside City Hall.

Mayor Katie Rosenberg explained in a tweet, posted Thursday, how city officials hope that the new, clearly marked drop box will eliminate any confusion as to where voters should leave their absentee votes. Previously, absentee ballots were placed in the payment drop box.

“Having the convenience of just being able to drop it off is a good thing,” said Reid Magney with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, who explained how drop boxes can avoid confusion and the chance of your vote being lost. “We definitely encourage city, village and town clerks to use drop boxes. When you mail your absentee ballot, depending on where you live, it may travel half way across the state.”

According to Magney, Wisconsin went from having 6% of votes cast as absentee ballots to 60% in the April election. While percentages aren’t available yet for the August 11 election, Magney says there were at least 600,000 absentee ballots cast throughout the state.

As the popularity continues to increase, he says clerks around the state looking to follow in Wausau’s path have some things to take into consideration.

“Can they use some existing infrastructure? Using an existing payment box or library drop box also works if you can get the signage right so that people aren’t confused and know “Oh, I can put my absentee ballot here and it’s not going to wind up in the city treasurer’s office waiting with a stack of water bills,‘” Magney said, also referencing security. “If you can put it in a place that has security cameras already, that’s a good thing.”

While Magney says the WEC hasn’t been made aware of any absentee drop boxes leading to votes being tampered with, he admits there are some other challenges that election and state officials may hope to address as they prepare for future elections.

“I think after this election, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who want to talk about our system, and figure out whether it needs any changes,” Magney said. “The elections commission is always happy to help and explain why some things might work and why some things might now work, and things that lawmakers need to think about, but in the end those are political decisions.”

Those conversations could perhaps include addressing the possibility of having ballots sent to all registered voters, something practiced in Colorado.

“Wisconsin makes it very easy for people to request absentee ballots,” says UW-Stevens Point political science professor John Bateman, who predicts the absentee voting trend will continue to rise even once the pandemic is over. “The convenience is, ultimately, it’s about not having to set aside time on Election Day and go to the polls and vote. It’s about being able to deliver your ballot, essentially, on your own schedule.”

Magney says registered voters can expect guidance from the WEC in early September in regards to their options for voting in November.

“September 1, we’re sending out a mailing to 2.6-million registered voters, telling them about what their options are for voting in November,” Magney explained. “They can vote in-person at the polling place if they want. They can vote in-person in their clerk’s office in the two weeks before the election, or if they want to, they can get an absentee ballot mailed to them.”

Magney encourages those who would like an absentee ballot to be mailed to them to request it sooner rather than later. You can do so by going to the MyVote Wisconsin website here.

“You think about all the stuff that happened back in March and April,” Magney went on to say. “The pandemic was coming down on us, people were confused; they didn’t know what to do. We served 1.1-million absentee voters in that election. It had never been done before, out of 1.5-million total votes, but there were some problems with that still. We want to make sure we avoid those problems and so we’re encouraging people to act now.”

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