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‘A human clerical error’: Rural Wisconsin village sends absentee voters pre-filled ballots

Those who received faulty ballots are encouraged to call village clerk's office

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poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day in Kenosha
In this Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day in Kenosha, Wis. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul asked a court to block subpoenas issued by an attorney hired by Republicans to lead an investigation into the 2020 presidential election that was won by President Joe Biden. Wong Maye/AP Photo

A clerical error in a rural Wisconsin community resulted in some voters receiving absentee ballots for the spring primary election that had already been filled out.

Some residents of Marathon County’s village of Kronenwetter received the wrong ballots ahead of this month’s primary, according to Village Clerk Bobbi Birk-LaBarge.

She said pre-filled ballots used to test voting machines were accidentally mixed-in with absentee ballots sent to voters.

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“They look just like any other ballots,” Birk-LaBarge said. “When we were given those by the county, they were paper clipped together. But because we’re all new here, we didn’t realize that the paperclip meant test ballots, and they got stuck in with the thousands of other absentee ballots.”

So far, 18 of the 21 test ballots have been returned, she said.

Marathon County Clerk Kim Trueblood said other municipalities in the county have accidentally sent out test ballots before.

Trueblood said absentee ballots for voters are sent to local clerks shrink-wrapped, whereas pre-filled test ballots are paper clipped together.

“We have done this process the same way for years and years and years,” Trueblood said. “Once we give the ballots and all the supplies to the clerks, it’s kind of up to them because they are responsible to send the ballots to absentee voters (and) they are responsible to administer their election. We provide the ballots and the supplies but once they leave our office, it’s totally out of our hands.”

Other ballots sent out in Kronenwetter were missing initials from the clerk and deputy clerk, and still need to be deactivated, Birk-LaBarge said. She couldn’t provide a number of ballots that were missing initials from the clerk and deputy clerk.

She attributed the missing initials to the staff in the village clerk’s office being relatively new to their jobs — with the longest tenured employee only being there for a little over a year — and the office being in a rush to send out absentee ballots.

“When we get them from the county, we have like two days to process all those absentee ballots and get them out,” Birk-LaBarge said of the missing initials. “Sometimes the clerks feel rushed, and that was the case with us. There was a step that was accidentally missed.”

Birk-LaBarge said those who received ballots that were already filled out or missing initials should contact the clerk’s office to deactivate their ballot and receive a new one.

“With so many accusations of voter fraud that have been happening in the past few years, the village wants to assure the voters this is definitely not the case,” the village of Kronenwetter said in a statement. “It was a human error, an oversight and a mistake that will take extra work to remedy by the clerk and deputy clerk, but it will be remedied.”

Trueblood said she “can understand” how the mistakes happened. She said municipal clerks have a tough job to “safeguard the integrity of the election” and often work long hours for little pay.

“It’s a mistake,” Trueblood said of the incident in Kronenwetter. “There was no malicious intent behind this at all. There was no fraudulent intent. There was nothing untoward. It was a human clerical error.”

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