Early in-person voting begins across Wisconsin as lawsuits over ballots are ongoing

With election day 2 weeks away, nearly 260K Wisconsinites have already returned their absentee ballots

A sign with a U.S. flag says "City of Madison Polling Place."
A voter walks up to a polling location Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Tenney Park in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s in-person early voting period kicked off Tuesday ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Early voting hours vary by municipality, but Oct. 25 is the earliest day local clerks can provide spaces for people to pick up absentee ballots, fill them out and return them in person.

Voters may also turn in their absentee ballots via mail, although the ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. Voters may no longer return those absentee ballots to a drop box after the state’s Supreme Court ruled this summer that the practice wasn’t permitted under Wisconsin law.

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Madison Deputy Clerk Jim Verbick said he remains hopeful that the legal landscape will change so that ballot drop boxes can once again be used throughout the city. But he says many Madison residents are taking advantage of absentee voting, whether by mail or by returning them to a local clerk’s office. Early in-person voting in the city began Tuesday and will continue, depending on the location, through Nov. 6.

“Everything’s going smooth,” Verbick said early Tuesday afternoon. “There’s a big, big rush as there always is on a first day and so there might be some areas that have a few lines, but we are surely getting to everyone who are in those lines.”

And Verbick says in-person early voting is good option for those with questions about voting requirements.

“The good thing about in-person absentee voting is there’s a person there that’s very knowledgeable to help you out through the process,” he said.

Multiple election-related lawsuits are ongoing, as Republicans and Democrats spar over the circumstances in which absentee ballots should be counted. Last month, a judge sided with Republicans in a lawsuit arguing clerks should not be allowed to fill in missing address information for the witness who’s required to sign an absentee ballot envelope. In a separate lawsuit, the League of Women Voters is arguing that absentee ballots should be counted even if a partial witness address is filled in, so long as the address field isn’t completely blank.

Absentee voting surged across Wisconsin in 2020, when now-President Joe Biden beat former President Donald Trump by about 20,600 votes statewide. But Verbick says the popularity of voting early, whether by mail or at a clerk’s office, appears to be persisting even as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.

At the start of the day Tuesday, 258,761, or nearly 55 percent, of the 465,730 absentee ballots sent out so far statewide had already been returned, according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

At this point before the 2018 election, the last time Wisconsin had a governor’s race on the ballot, only 246,959 absentee ballots had been sent out. Of those, nearly 70 percent had been returned.

November’s election includes hotly contested statewide races, as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers fights to keep his seat against Republican Tim Michels and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul fends off a challenge from Republican Eric Toney. Incumbent Republican Ron Johnson is also facing Democrat Mandela Barnes in a race for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats.

When and where can you vote early and in-person?

The window has closed for registering to vote online or by mail before the general election, but Wisconsinites may still register in-person at their local clerk’s office until 5 p.m. Nov. 4. Or they can register at the polls on Election Day, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.

Visit myvote.wi.gov to search for in-person absentee voting options near you.