September 25, 2020, Reuters
Two elderly women in small towns in Wisconsin voted by mail during April’s presidential nominating contests. Both were sheltering in place as coronavirus surged across their state.
Each mailed her ballot to the local election office with a note explaining why no witness had signed the envelope, as Wisconsin’s strict voting laws require. The women didn’t want to risk virus exposure, they told Reuters in telephone interviews this month.
That’s where the similarity ends. The ballot of Peggy Houglum, a 72-year-old voter in the eastern Wisconsin hamlet of Cedar Grove, was rejected due to the missing witness information. That of Judith Olson, 88, a resident of the northern town of Elk, was accepted, according to “incident” logs viewed by Reuters in which Wisconsin election offices document irregular ballots. Houglum, who plans to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in November, said she was never told her ballot didn’t count. Olson wouldn’t provide her party affiliation or say whom she supports for president.
Local election officials confirmed the fate of those ballots. Cedar Grove Village Clerk Julie Brey told Reuters she had sought guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission on what to do. Her Elk counterpart, Suzanne Brandt, said she couldn’t recall who advised her to accept an unwitnessed ballot.
The unequal treatment in the same crucial battleground state underscores a growing worry about the general election on Nov. 3 between Biden and incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. Whether or not a mail ballot is counted could depend to a large degree on how local election workers enforce mail-in voting rules, how they notify voters who submit deficient ballots, and whether they allow them to fix such errors. Each of the 50 U.S. states has a central election authority, but ballots are processed by dozens of separate county or municipal election offices within each state.