UPDATED: 9:58 a.m.
By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — In upholding the Wisconsin Constitution, election officials are being forced to break the law.
“As you are all well aware, the condensed timing between the recall primary and recall election makes adherence to the statutory dates governing absentee ballot availability impossible to achieve,” Nat Robinson, the Government Accountability Board’s elections division administrator, wrote in a letter to county and municipal clerks Monday. “However, we must make a concerted effort to have ballots available as soon as we possibly can.”
Here’s the problem:
State law requires that absentee ballots be available 21 days before an election.
But in reality, absentee ballots for the recalls won’t be available until at least May 18, after the GAB, which oversees the state’s elections, certifies the results from Tuesday’s primaries.
The GAB plans to certify Tuesday’s recall primaries at 5 p.m. May 17, allowing the required time for local canvassing boards to tally all the votes, including late-arriving absentee ballots and provisional ballots, and allowing for a three-day period during which candidates may request a recount.
The recalls, however, can’t be delayed to enable a three-week absentee-balloting period.
Article XIII, Section 12 of the state constitution requires that a recall primary be held six weeks after a recall election is ordered. The general recall election must be held four weeks after the primary.
“The six-week and four-week deadlines are in the constitution, and they do conflict with some of the statutory language, but the constitution trumps statutes,” GAB spokesman Reid Magney said in an email.
“There is a relatively short timeframe to vote absentee in the recall elections — a regrettable consequence of schedule required by the Wisconsin Constitution and state law,” Magney said.
It’s a consequence driven by an unprecedented spate of recall elections, targeting Republicans and driven by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and its anti-Walker allies.
Absentee ballots have been a constant thorn in the side of election officials in this and other years.
Wisconsin Reporter published an investigative report last month indicating that, for the April election, at least 63 of Wisconsin’s 1,851 municipal clerks missed deadlines, required by the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, for sending out ballots to military voters.
The MOVE Act requires that ballots be sent out at least 47 days before federal elections.
“Unfortunately, because (the upcoming recalls are) a state election, the federal laws do not apply,” said Eric Eversole, executive director of the nonprofit Military Voter Protection Project.
“This is simply a function where people got all fired up to recall the governor, but didn’t think about the short time frame and how that would affect not only military voters but overseas absentee voters,” he said.
Voters living permanently overseas are not allowed to vote in the non-federal recall elections.
Eversole said his organization will consider what it can do to intervene to help service members vote in the recall.
But given constitutional and statutory election schedules, it’s unclear what that might be.
Dane County Deputy Clerk Judy Nowak said absentee ballots for Tuesday’s primary have until 4 p.m. Friday to arrive. Local canvassers will send their primary election results to the state Monday, which prompts the start of a three-day window for candidates to call for recounts, ending at 5 p.m. Thursday, when the GAB will certify the primary election results.
“It’s a two-week window of opportunity” to vote absentee, Nowak said.
Military voters, can request that a ballot be emailed to them.
Last year, the Legislatures passed a law containing a provision that said only military and overseas voters can have absentee ballots emailed or faxed to them, effective as of the February 2012 elections.
Military ballots will be accepted until 4 p.m. June 8, but like all absentee ballots, they must be postmarked no later than election day.
M.D. Kittle contributed to this report.
Correction: The original article misidentified which categories of voters are able to have ballots emailed to them.