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Voted for a candidate that’s no longer running? Clerks say you can still request a new absentee ballot

Some municipal clerks say they've seen an uptick in voters asking to change their absentee ballots as more primary candidates drop out before Aug. 9

ballot envelopes surround a worker who sits on the floor
Madelyn Preston, a first-time poll worker, sorts absentee envelopes Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Madison. Angela Major/WPR

Municipal clerks in Wisconsin say they’re gearing up to fulfill more requests to redo absentee ballots that have been submitted ahead of the Aug. 9 primary election.

If an absentee voter changes their mind before the election, they can request to “spoil” their first ballot and receive a new one. Lori Stottler, Janesville city clerk-treasurer, said all they have to do is contact their municipal clerk.

“They’ll ‘spoil’ — cancel your existing ballot and issue you a new absentee ballot. That still needs to be back to the polls no later than 8:00 p.m. on election day,” she said.

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Thomas Lund, a certified municipal clerk in the Madison City Clerk’s office, said it’s a process that is always available to absentee voters; however, it’s not often used. But his office has seen a flurry of these requests this week and expects to see more in the coming days.

Three of the candidates running in the Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race have exited the race this week. State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski announced she was suspending her campaign on Friday, joining Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks Executive Alex Lasry in endorsing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

“Part of the challenge of this is we’re coming up so close to the election, that we’re just concerned that we can get those ballots back from people if they are asking to have their first one spoiled and the second one sent out to them,” Lund said.

In Madison, Lund said a voter has to submit a written request to spoil their ballot, either by mail, by emailing voting@cityofmadison.com or in person. A clerk then locates their physical ballot and tears it so that it can’t be counted.

“Then we must mail you a new absentee ballot. And because it goes through the mail either two times — both when somebody requests to have it spoiled and when we send the ballot out to them — or a single time for people who request the spoil in person, we are concerned about the amount of time it takes to get that done,” Lund said.

The deadline for absentee voters to spoil their ballots is 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4.

City of Milwaukee voters can make requests by emailing absenteeballot@milwaukee.gov or calling 414-286-VOTE (8683). The Milwaukee Elections Commission said absentee voters can spoil their ballots and request new ones in-person at an early voting locations until Saturday, Aug. 6.

In a press release sent Thursday, Milwaukee officials said they’ve also heard from a number of voters looking to change their ballots in light of candidate withdrawals.

If a voter is submitting their new absentee ballot by mail, Lund said the most important thing to remember is that the ballot has to make it to the clerk’s office, an in-person absentee voting location or the voter’s normal polling location by the end of Election Day in order to be counted. So he encourages voters to consider how important correcting their ballot is to them.

“It’s a balancing act on the voter’s part in terms of how important is it versus how close to the election do we want to get in order to assure that we can count their ballot,” he said.