‘We need to extend that deadline’: City clerk worries about voters getting absentee ballots in on time

MADISON, Wis. — With politicians and leaders encouraging absentee voting this spring, city and county election clerks are handling sometimes thousands more ballot requests than in previous election years.

Some of those clerks are asking for more time for voters to get those ballots back to them.

Michelle Ebbert, the clerk/treasurer in Fort Atkinson, said her team is trying to keep up with the demand, sending out more than a hundred absentee ballots a day. In 2016, she guessed her office filled 150 requests total. She worried about voters getting them to her by 8 p.m. on Election Day like they are supposed to.

“If voters complete their ballot and get it in the mail right away, I hope so,” she said about her team being able to get all the ballots back in time. “Realistic, no. We need to extend that deadline.”

Both state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and the state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have said they do not want to change election rules while voting is already underway, which bothered Ebbert.

“I understand we don’t want to set a precedent for changing things for a pandemic, but we have to be again, realistic,” she said. “We have to take care of our voters. We have to take care of our residents. We have to take care of everybody.”

Reid Magney, a spokesperson for the state elections commission, said if voters get their ballot in on time, clerks will count their vote. A bigger focus for him is in-person safety.

“What we’re focusing on right now is making sure municipal and county clerks and poll workers have the resources that they need to conduct this election on April 7,” he said.

The commission has secured hand sanitizer for polling places, and clerks are trying to find companies to build protective shields. Ebbert’s dad is building one for her.

As for poll workers, Ebbert worries about having enough. Right now, despite some state workers volunteering to help, she doesn’t.

“That’s a big battle that we’re having in a lot of places,” she said. “I have three shifts for my workers, 13 people each shift. So far my morning shift I have three people.”

Ebbert said she’s telling anyone who is interested in working the election not to if they don’t feel comfortable or if they are exhibiting symptoms.

We can make it work, she said.

Some municipalities, such as the city of Middleton, have limited polling locations because they cannot find enough election inspectors to fill the positions.

Still, number one for Ebbert is absentee ballots.

“I would really like to see them extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be received,” she said. “That I think would be a huge step in making sure every vote counts.”

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Thursday, but clerks urge voters not to wait until then.