By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
The MOVE Act is intended to ensure that military and overseas voters have ample time to receive a ballot, vote and return the ballot in time for it to be counted in the election. It requires absentee ballots be sent out to military and overseas voters no later than 45 days before a federal election.
“We have continued to communicate with clerks about the importance of meeting the deadlines for sending out military and overseas absentee ballots,” GAB spokesman Reid Magney wrote in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.
Getting local election officials to comply with MOVE Act requirements has been a repeated problem.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits against Wisconsin and four other states for not giving overseas voters enough time to return ballots.
In response, Wisconsin lawmakers last year voted to move the fall primary back to August to ensure the state could meet MOVE Act requirements.
This past March, the DOJ again filed a lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin and the GAB, charging noncompliance after dozens of Wisconsin clerks missed the 45-day deadline for sending out ballots to overseas and military voters prior to the April election.
At least 227 ballots were sent late prior to that election, according to GAB, some by nearly a month.
As part of an agreement with the DOJ stemming from the lawsuit, GAB agreed to closely monitor clerks for MOVE Act compliance for the rest of 2012.
The latest report was due to DOJ on Thursday and indicated that 39 clerks missed Saturday’s deadline.
“However, we believe that many of those clerks may have misread the survey and indicated that they did not comply with the deadline when in fact they intended to indicate that they did not have any requests on file,” according to the letter to DOJ, signed by GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy. “We are following up with those municipalities to verify their responses and will provide a follow-up report to you.”
Magney said the agreement with DOJ requires, among other things, “ascertaining clerks’ capacity to honor the Federal 45-day absentee ballot transit requirement,” specifically, whether they are able to fax or email out a ballot.
Clerks’ responses to Wisconsin Reporter inquiries, however, highlight the complexity of an elections process administered by nearly 2,000 people – 72 county clerks and 1,851 municipal clerks, all overseen by the GAB.
Local officials supervise elections, including equipping polling places, buying and maintaining voting equipment, training poll workers, and preparing appropriate notices, publications and ballots.
City of Barron Clerk-Treasurer Tony Slagstad incorrectly was listed as a clerk who missed the MOVE Act deadline following the April election – an error the GAB ultimately corrected.
City of Verona Clerk Kami Lynch said she missed the deadline prior to the spring election because the Statewide Voter Registration System kept “freezing” on her and wouldn’t allow her to generate the labels required to track the ballots.
City of Gillett Clerk Leone Christensen said, in the last election, her office “missed” the deadline because an absentee voter didn’t request a ballot until after the deadline had passed – and, Christensen said, there was some confusion in her office.
“This time, we got the ballot out to her,” Christensen said. “We actually got a response back from her, and she’s not voting.”
The GAB has tried to improve the situation by asking clerks to complete surveys about, among other things, whether they met mandatory deadlines.
But Lynch questioned the surveys’ ability to make a difference.
“The surveys, they are very quick, so they’re not a burden to do,” she said. “However, they’re very broad, so I’m not sure what they’re really accomplishing for the GAB.”