360: Digging into the concerns surrounding absentee voting

Posted at 7:04 AM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 15:25:50-04

MILWAUKEE — As Wisconsin struggles to fight its worst spike in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, the way some people choose to vote in the upcoming election will change.

So, we are going "360" to fully understand the conversation surrounding absentee ballots.

We talked to an election official preparing to count a record-breaking number of votes submitted by mail, we hear from the President who continues to raise concerns over voter integrity, we speak to a poll worker encouraging people to vote early, if possible and we talk to two voters who say dropping their ballots off early just doesn't feel right. That's where we will start.

"I'm a little concerned and I'd rather do it in person," said voter Ted Skelton, who says he plans to vote in-person on Nov. 3rd.

"It scares the bajesus out of me. I'm worried about fraud," said Skelton.

He says voting by mail leaves him feeling uneasy and fellow voter, Andy Portale, agrees that voting in-person feels more secure.

"It's the way I've always done. It's old school and I think it eliminates fraud because they see the driver's license and they know it's me," said Portale.

Their hesitation may be reinforced by baseless claims made by President Trump who has spoken out on the integrity of the election while on the campaign trail.

"We have a big problem and you see it happened every day with the ballots," President Trump has said. "When the ballots and when the system is rigged, which it is, obviously it is, and the only one that knows that better than me are the Democrats."

The President has even gone as far as to say that ballots with his name on them are being dumped in rivers.

The White House, reversing course, said ballots were found in a ditch in Wisconsin recently.

Wisconsin's top election official, Meghan Wolfe, shut those claims down saying no ballots were ever found in a ditch in Wisconsin.

Overall, data shows that voter fraud is uncommon in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission reports that of the 2.7 Million ballots cast during the 2018 General Election, only four cases of voting fraud, irregularity or violation were reported for that election.

From February 2019 until August 2020, the commission reported 19 possible, unconfirmed, cases of voting fraud, irregularity or violation.

The issues found included attempts to vote more than once in the same election, Individuals providing false or incorrect information, and at least one case of a felon attempting to register to vote.

When it comes to voting by mail, the executive director of Milwaukee's election commission says the process is very secure.

"We are mailing ballots out, we track those carefully in our voter database, and then, every ballot gets marked as being returned from a voter, then until election day those are stored safely at our warehouse under video surveillance 24 hours per day," said Claire Woodall-Vogg, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.

In Wisconsin, ballots are not counted until Nov. 3rd at 7 p.m.

They end up stored inside a warehouse where they kept under strict supervision.

Voters also have the option to track their ballots at any time online.

For people worried about relying on the postal service to return their ballot, the city has also set up early voting drop box sites for people wanting to drop-off absentee ballots physically while still limiting exposure during the pandemic.

The drop boxes are monitored by surveillance cameras 24/7 and the ballots are picked up by city staff daily and transported back to the warehouse for safe-keeping.

"It takes one less player out of the chain of custody," Woodall-Vogg said about the process.

Still, Lisa Fohey, A chief inspector at a Milwaukee-area polling site says she and others across the state will be ready to help voters vote in-person on Nov. 3rd.

"We are making it safe for you," said Fohey.

Fohey describes strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines that will be paired with other safety protocols to limit the risk of voting in-person amid the coronavirus surge.

Fohey still recommends avoiding the risk of long lines and exposure to the virus by voting early.

"I still would encourage people to vote early, vote by mail, vote by drop-box because I think it's safer to do so and also because I think it's probably more comfortable to do so," said Fohey.

Election officials statewide want to make it clear that however you decide to vote, your vote will be secure and will count.

Many communities in Southeast Wisconsin are installing safe drop-box sites and in Milwaukee on Nov. 3, Woodall-Vogg says 173 of the typical 180 voting locations will be open.

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