Behind the barrier

Clear shower curtains hang from the ceiling in Milton City Hall. The curtains were used to create a barrier and minimize the spread of the coronavirus between poll workers and voters during both the April and August 2020 elections. The plan will be employed again in November, City Clerk Leanne Schroeder said.

Milton City Clerk Leanne Schroeder gave a presentation to the City of Milton Common Council Oct. 6, offering a full synopsis of how voting in Milton will be handled during the Nov. 3 election. 

Schroeder noted that the November election would be the fourth and final election of 2020. 

As of Oct. 6, she said, 1,122 absentee ballots had been requested for the Nov. 3 election and 577 had been returned. 

(Update: in a recent email, Schroeder shared the following: 

"Today (Oct. 8),  the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked (US District) Judge (William) Conley’s order from Sept. 21. This means:

• The deadline for online and mail-in voter registration is back to Oct. 14.

• The Wisconsin Elections Commission is not required to make any changes to the indefinitely confined language on MyVote or on written materials.

• The deadline for receipt of absentee ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted.

• Regular voters may not request a replacement ballot by email at any time.

• Reinstates the requirement that an individual must be a resident of the county in which the municipality is located in order to serve as an election official for the municipality.

"The judges wrote their decision indicting that they believed it was too close to Election Day to make significant changes and that any changes were better left to elected officials rather than the judiciary. It is expected that the decision will be appealed to either the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.") 

Basic information

Schroeder described the role of the Wisconsin Election Commission, which, she said, is “charged with administering and interpreting election law." Election law is created by the state Legislature and found in chapters 5-12 of  state statutes, she said. 

The commission also provides guidance to clerks, and is responsible for the MyVote website and the WisVote system, she said. 

The MyVote site can be used by voters to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and locate their polling place, Schroeder said. 

The WisVote system is used by clerks to enter voter registrations, follow up on absentee ballots and perform other election-related duties, she said. 

Voter registration 

Schroeder shared the following voter registration deadlines:

  • Voters can register to vote online at MyVote.wi.gov and by mail until Wednesday, Oct. 21.
  • After Oct. 21, voters can register to vote in person at the municipal clerk’s office until 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30. Voters are not permitted to register on the Saturday, Sunday or Monday preceding an election.

(Update: Schroeder noted recently that after her Oct. 6 presentation was made, a court decision reversed the registration date to Oct. 14, therefore, she said, voters can no longer register to vote through MyVote and can, as of Oct. 14, come to city hall to register.) 

Voters can also register to vote at their polling place on Election Day.

Those looking to register to vote must produce the following documents: a completed voter registration application, a proof of residency document containing the voter’s complete name, and current and complete residential address, and a photo ID such as a drivers license.

Common forms of a proof of residency document are a utility bill, a credit card statement, and any type of government document, Schroeder said. 

Voters are sometimes confused by the need for both forms of documentation, Schroeder said, noting that the proof of residency document is used to prove where a voter lives and the photo ID is used to prove the voter’s identity. 

How to get a ballot

All absentee ballot requests must be made in writing, Schroeder said. Requests can be made online, at MyVote, or by sending an email or letter to the municipal clerk, including the voter’s name, address, and the election for which a ballot is being requested. 

A copy of the voter’s photo ID must accompany the request with three possible exceptions. They include military voters, permanent overseas voters, and those voters falling into a category called “indefinitely confined.”   

Integrity of the voting system

In her presentation, Schroeder detailed the full election process. 

“A few weeks prior to the election, I go to the county clerk’s office and get a flash drive … that drive contains the election,” she said. 

After returning to city hall with the flash drive, Schroeder said: “I put it into the machine and run a test of all the voting equipment. That’s usually done a week prior to the election. After I complete the test, I seal the flash drive in the machine and the machine is locked up and stored in my office until Election Day." 

On Election Day, Schroeder said: “I bring the machine out to the polling place and we plug it into the wall just for electricity — it’s never connected to the internet. I turn it on,  I enter the election codes that are specific to each election. Those are given to us by the county clerk, and then I put the machine into voting mode.”

Schroeder said the machine stays in voting mode until the polls close at which time the machine is switched to “reporting mode.” 

“That’s when we print out the tape results. At that point, we break the seals on the doors of the machine and remove all of the ballots and we count them all.”

Ballots are counted to make sure that the total number of ballots match the reported number from the machine. After the number of ballot received is confirmed, Schroeder said, she next uses a wireless cell modem to transmit the data to the county clerk. The process ends when the municipal clerk calls the county clerk’s office to verify that she has received the results. 

The day after the election, Schroeder said, she brings the printed tape from the machine, the poll book, the inspector’s statement, the flash drive, tally sheets and “other election-related materials” to the county clerk’s office. 

According to Schroeder, the Election Day inspector’s statement is used to “track all of the seals that were put on the machine, the time that they are put on (and) the time that they are broken.” 

A copy of the inspector’s statement is kept at city hall and is an open record, Schroeder said. 

In-person absentee voting 

In-person absentee voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 20, and runs through Friday, Oct. 30, at 5 p.m.

Those choosing to vote in-person at city hall before Election Day will be asked to provide the clerk or city staff member assisting them with a photo ID, and state their name and address. The person assisting them will look them up in the WisVote system and enter in their ballot request. The system produces a label which will be placed on an envelope. The voter will be given a ballot and after they vote the ballot, they will be asked to place it in the envelope, seal it, and return it to the assisting staff member. Next, the staff member will watch them sign the envelope. 

Schroeder said that when the ballot request is entered into the WisVote system, it assigns a unique number to that person and that ballot, so another ballot cannot be assigned to that person. 

After the staff member takes the ballot from the voter, it is stored in a secured space in the clerk’s office until Election Day. 

Absentee by mail and in-person ballots are recorded in the poll book by the city clerk. 

Schroeder said she tracks absentee ballots by making notations in the polling book, indicting when a ballot was issued and when it was returned. The system helps poll workers on Election Day keep track of those voters who have already voted or who already have a ballot. 

Voting absentee by mail 

The last day voters can request an absentee ballot by mail is Thursday, Oct. 29, by 5 p.m.

“That is the statutory deadline, however, we don’t encourage voters to wait that long,” Schroeder said. 

When returning a ballot, “as of today (Oct. 6.), all ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day (Nov. 3), and must be received by Nov. 9,” Schroeder said. 

“This was the deadline that came out of Judge Conley’s decision that may be appealed,” she said, referencing US District Judge William Conley who ruled on Sept. 21 that ballots arriving up to six days after Election Day, that are postmarked by Election Day, will count in the November election. 

(Update: As of Oct. 8, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Judge Conley’s order from Sept. 21. The deadline for receipt of absentee ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. Ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted.)

 “All of our absentee ballots that we mail out have return postage on them,” Schroeder said. 

Ballots can also be returned to a secure dropbox in front of city hall. Schroeder said the dropbox is checked and emptied twice on weekdays and once on weekend days. 

Schroeder described the absentee voting by mail process as similar to in-person voting.

“With absentee voting by mail, she said, two labels are printed: “one goes on that interior envelope that comes back to us and the other goes on the outside envelope that we are mailing to the voter. 

“On the outside envelope, in addition to the voter’s name and address, there is an 'intelligent mail barcode (IMB).'” 

the IMB is scanned at the post office in Milwaukee, she said, and is recorded on MyVote. Voters can check the MyVote site and learn an anticipated date for the arrival of their ballot. While there is not an IMB associated with the ballot's return trip to the city clerk’s office, Schroeder said when she receives ballots, she enters the ballot's unique number into the WisVote system. 

“It shows them (voters) that I have received the ballot,” she said. 

Upon receiving ballots by mail, Schroeder said, she checks the outside envelope to make sure all the required information — the voter’s signature, and the witness’s signature and address — are on the envelope.

If information is missing, Schroeder said: “We let them (voter) know that they need to correct their certificate envelope or their ballot will not be counted.” 

In a follow-up interview, Schroeder said voters who have requested ballots in advance of the election, but have not returned them, can come to the polling place on Election Day. At the polling place, the clerk will "deactivate" the first ballot and issue the voter a new ballot. 

COVID and Election Day

Schroeder described 2020 as a “unique year.” 

Pandemic precautions at the polling place were developed during the April and August elections, she said, and include the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and the sanitizing of surfaces. 

“We have been following the advice of the election commission," she said. 

Election Day plans include having a “greeter station” at the door. 

“The greeter will help with line control and social distancing,” Schroeder said. 

Marks on the sidewalks and floors will also help maintain social distancing, she said.

All surfaces, including tables and booths with which voters and poll workers come in contact, will be sanitized.

“We also bought thousands of pens in April. When a voter approaches the poll book, they are given their own pen,” she said.

“My main goal on Election Day is to limit the amount of time that voters spend in the polling place,” she said, adding that she believed the best way to keep voters and poll workers safe was to keep exposure times to a minimum.

Further protections will include masks, hand sanitizers and hand-washing breaks for poll workers, and plastic shower curtains hung from the ceiling to provide shielding between poll workers and voters. 

Schroeder said some of her previously trained poll workers are on a temporary leave of absence, but she has been encouraged by several new volunteer that have recently come forward. Several are county and state employees, she said. 

“Right now, I have probably 15 new poll workers,” she said, adding that she plans to tap city staff members for help on Election Day should a need arise. 

According the the election commission, she said, a minimum number of poll workers is seven, but in an emergency situation, an election can be run with three. The county clerk’s office has a list of trained poll workers who can be called in an emergency, she said. 

In April, she said, some smaller municipalities were helped by the National Guard. 

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