"Last night," Daily Kos blogger "Wisco Wherls" wrote today, "I felt like an atypically politically-motivated little kid on Christmas Eve waiting to receive the only gift I asked for: a chance to reclaim our Wisconsin from tyranny."
Wisco was so excited about the first day of Early Voting in the Badger State's historic recall elections of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state Senators, that he (or she?) "ascended the front steps [of the Middleton City Hall] at 7:40 a.m., five minutes earlier than the building was even scheduled to open," in order to be among the first to cast a vote for Tom Barrett for Governor and Mahlon Mitchell for Lieutenant Governor.
Wisconsin voters were supposed to be able to cast early, in-person "absentee ballots" beginning today, according to state law and a memo sent to the state's Municipal Clerks [PDF] last week by the Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), the state's top election agency. But, alas, Wisco would leave disappointed this morning --- unable to cast what he/she had hoped might even be the first recall vote cast in the entire state --- after being told (inaccurately) that absentee ballots for Early Voting had not yet arrived at the Middleton municipal City Hall.
"I left my phone number and received confirmation that they will supposedly call me as soon as the ballots arrive," Wisco wrote today. "I guess that's what I get for getting my ass out of bed early for once. Nothing like waking up on Christmas morning only to find a lump of fucking coal in your stocking."
The blogger, appropriately enough, described the situation as "unequivocally unacceptable."
But we may have some good news for Wisco Wherls and the rest of Wisconsin's voters. The problem that he/she ran into may have been only an isolated incident, and the result of a miscommunication at the Middleton City Hall, at least according to a statement we received from the G.A.B. late today, after we'd inquired about the reported problem.
Though there remain other concerns with the way Municipal Clerks are handling the delay in the printing and receipt of official absentee ballots, which had not yet arrived at some municipalities around the state in time for the first official day for Early Voting...
Last week, we reported on a several day delay in the mailing of absentee ballots, thanks to a quirk and/or conflict between two state laws and the state Constitution when it comes to the timing of recall elections and the mailing of absentee ballots. The result is that some voters, hopefully not many, may be disenfranchised if they were planning on leaving the state last week and not returning in time to vote in the June 5th recall. For those voters, as G.A.B. Executive Director Kevin Kennedy acknowledged, their absentee ballots will not have arrived in time for them to cast it before leaving town.
We noted, at the time, that unlike some of the extremely ugly dirty tricks we saw prior to last year's set of recall elections, the late absentee mailings didn't seem to be of a similar piece. Rather, they were simply an unfortunate circumstance of the law (if one that seemingly could have been avoided with better planning by the beleaguered G.A.B. when setting dates for the recall primaries and general elections.)
After last week's false start, it was disappointing to read this morning about the problem Wisco encountered when trying to vote --- particularly in the wake of last week's G.A.B. memo [PDF] which quite clearly instructed municipal clerks to be certain that voters would be able to vote in person as of 8am this morning [all emphasis from original memo]...
Despite that missive, Wisco was turned away today without being able to vote. But G.A.B. spokesman Reid Magney tells The BRAD BLOG that the incident seems to have been both isolated and due to a lack of communication in the Middleton Clerk's office.
"Our information is that a couple of voters arrived at the Middleton city clerk's office before 8 a.m., when the clerk herself arrived," Magney says. "The secretary, who is new, did not know that the paper ballots were sitting on the clerk's desk. Voters arriving after 8 a.m. were able to vote, and we have instructed the clerk to contact the one voter who left his name and phone number to be contacted when ballots were available."
Presumably that "one voter" was Wisco Wherls.
When asked if his office received similar reports of voters having trouble voting today elsewhere in the state, he said the G.A.B. had only one other similar report to date.
"We've also heard the city of Antigo was late this morning, but I don't have any additional information. We are contacting them as well," writes Magney.
We tried to contact the Antigo Clerk for comment ourselves, but the office had already closed at 4:30pm CT.
Anyone who has problems voting, or sees anything that is troubling, should document it as best as possible, and then report it to the G.A.B. at 866-VOTE-WIS and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also we'd recommend filing a report at the independent national voter problem hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE. As John Washburn, one of our favorite WI Election Integrity experts says, "if there ain't an official report, it didn't happen."
'Remaking' Absentee Ballots
Perhaps more disturbing than Wisco Wherls' reported incident, however, is what will happen to the votes of those like Wisco's Daily Kos friend and excellent Wisconsin blogger "Giles Goat Boy".
As noted in the G.A.B. memo, Clerks "MUST provide voters with substitute ballots (a copy of the ballot proof sent by the county) until the printed ballots are received."
That is how Giles Goat Boy, and presumably many other early birds across the state, voted this morning in municipalities where official absentee ballots had yet to arrive from the printers.
"When I voted this morning in my little village 8 miles north of Middleton, they gave me a ballot that looked like a photocopy," Giles wrote in a comment to Wisco's article today.
"[S]o I assume they will be creating the actual ballots that go into the machine on election night after they open the absentee envelopes," he continued. "I have heard of this when they run out of actual ballots on election day, but to not have the regular ballots available today is like the Brewers not having brats at Miller Park on opening day. Not an encouraging sign."
Not encouraging, indeed.
We checked with Gabney on this point as well, and yes, photocopied ballots, rather than being hand-counted, will be "remade" by pollworkers on Election Day at the precincts, where absentee ballots are otherwise sent to be tallied (usually by optical-scan computers, either accurately or inaccurately --- who knows, since Wisconsin does no post-election spot-check of any of those computer-tallied paper ballots?) along with the other votes cast at each precinct.
We've written before of the incredibly offensive practice of "remaking" voters' ballots in WI and elsewhere, if, for any number of reasons, they are not readable by the optical-scan computers. The practice is carried out in many places around the country, and is even brought to absurdly offensive heights in jurisdictions where some voters go out of their way to vote on paper ballots, only to have those ballots later punched into 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems --- again either accurately or not.
In most places that we've heard of "remaking" ballots occurring, it is done by county election officials in the "dark" of county headquarters. It's done differently in Wisconsin, though in no less troubling a fashion.
According to another commenter on Wisco's article --- one who seems to be less than concerned about the practice:
"Those who work in the ward where I am would never screw around with this," the commenter optimistically notes. "If you have reason to believe your ward is problematic, maybe you can try to enlist poll watchers for the election."
Wisco, however, is not quite as confident in the process --- justifiably, calling the the practice of remaking ballots "even more disheartening," than being unable to vote this morning, "as it involves an individual reading your ballot, then having to transfer it over to an actual ballot that they will fill in by hand."
"What if this happened and you lived in [the Republican strongholds of] Waukesha County or Ozaukee County? Do you really trust that the clerks would eventually ensure that your photocopy was correctly entered on an actual ballot with votes for Barrett and Mitchell before they ran it through the electronic tabulator?"
And just to point out the non-partisan (or bi-partisan) concerns about the absurd practice of "remaking" the ballots of voters so they can be tallied, in secret, either accurately or not (seriously, accurately or not), by an optical-scan computer, we suspect that Republicans and other Walker supporters are no less comfortable with the idea of, say, "liberal" Milwaukee poll workers remaking their ballots by hand, either.
Nonetheless, as the G.A.B.'s Gabney confirmed to us via email today, "By state law, paper ballots are remade at the polling place on Election Day."
Great. Good luck, Wisconsin!