Wisconsin elections panel doesn’t want delay in vote count

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Elections Commission wants a judge to allow officials in a northeastern county near Green Bay to use markers to fill in a ballot misprint so that the ballots can be processed more quickly through counting machines.

The commission opposed giving Outagamie County more time to count the ballots, expressing fear that any delay could put Wisconsin in the spotlight if the presidential race is in doubt.

“I don’t want the eyes of the nation to be on Wisconsin because we can’t determine what the outcome is of our election,” said commissioner Dean Knudson, a Republican.

It will be up to a court, not the state elections commission, to decide how the problematic ballots are handled.

The commission, split evenly among Republicans and Democrats, voted unanimously to recommend that Outagamie County not be given more time to count the absentee ballots. The commissioners also said in a letter sent Tuesday to Outagamie County that the problematic ballots should be fixed by filling in the missing area with a marker so that they can be counted.

That is faster, more accurate and better than duplicating the voters’ choices onto a new ballot, Knudson and other commissioners said. Trying to copy the ballot presents too many opportunities for mistakes to be made or for elections officials to guess at the intent of a voter when a mark may not be clear, commissioners said.

The county was expected to quickly ask a court for more time to count absentee ballots due to the error. State law requires all absentee ballots to be counted by 4 p.m. on Nov. 4, the day after the election.

The misprint is a scratch that is described as no wider than a fingernail on a timing mark at the edge of the Outagamie County ballot, and it does not affect any contests, candidates or ballot referenda.

The error was caught in time to reprint the ballots so that those used for early in-person voting, which began Tuesday, are able to be counted, said Outagamie County Clerk Lori O’Bright.

At least 5,500 absentee ballots were affected by the flaw, according to an Oct. 15 letter the county sent to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. But Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top elections official, said Tuesday that she did not have an estimate as to how many more ballots were affected.

President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and polls suggest that this year’s race will also be close.

As absentee and early voting have surged this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims about widespread fraud, bringing more attention to issues like the Outagamie County misprint.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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