Frustrated with spring election, Madison Mayor pushes for mail-in voting

Clerk says absentee ballots without postmarks to be counted if received by April 10

MADISON, Wis. – With ballots being counted and results coming in nearly a week after in-person voting, Monday evening felt like the strange second half of Election Day.

“The whole election is surreal, so this is just a continuation of that,” City of Madison Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said.

The day before last Tuesday’s election, decisions from the State and Federal Supreme Courts meant in-person voting would go on as planned despite an order from Governor Tony Evers, and absentee ballots would have to be postmarked by April 7 to be counted, rather than by April 13 as a judge had ruled previously.

Witzel-Behl said about 600 absentee ballots came in without a postmark.

Before beginning counting, the city’s board of canvassers made the decision to count absentee ballots without postmarks if they arrived by April 10, based on consultations with the postmaster on how long mail delivery is taking. The board would review the about 20 that came after that on a case-by-case basis, according to Witzel-Behl.

Poll workers and city staff started counting ballots at 4 p.m. Witzel-Behl said they were dealing with thousands of absentee ballots.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help from Parking Utility. Parking cashiers have been helping assign voter numbers to absentees and slice open envelopes,” she said.

As of 9 p.m., election workers estimated they were about 80% done opening the ballots’ envelopes and 30% done tabulating them.

“I have to say, if there is a bright spot, it is absolutely our Clerk’s Office,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said.

But Rhodes-Conway said the election was surrounded by plenty of darkness, pointing to those who put their health at risk to vote and the residents whose absentee ballots didn’t arrive in time.

“I am just heartsick over the fact that so many were disenfranchised over the election,” she said. “I think we’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands of people who wanted to vote, tried to vote and were not able to.”

Rhodes-Conway said she had mixed feelings about the election, adding that while she thinks the city did the best it could to keep voters safe at polls, she doesn’t think polls should have been open during a pandemic at all.

“I’m glad that the election will be over, I suppose except for court challenges,” she said. “I just really feel like we still could have done a better job statewide.”

In the coming weeks, Rhodes-Conway wants the state to consider a vote-by-mail election, so that next time, things run more smoothly.

“A huge thank you for everyone who voted, or tried to vote, because you did the right thing,” she said. “The system may have failed you this time, but we are going to work our hardest in the city to do what we can, but also pressure state and federal government to do what they can to make sure we’re not in this place in November.”