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Sunday, January 29, 2023

The city will implement a variety of measures to protect the integrity of next week’s general election as concerns surrounding absentee ballots and voter fraud have reached the center of the political debate at the state and national level. 

Madison City Clerk Office implements, details election security measures

As Election Day nears in Wisconsin — a battleground state in the 2020 election — the Madison City Clerk's Office has implemented measures to ensure secure and accurate voting results occur once the polls close.

Last Friday, the city announced it would place 14 newly purchased secure ballot drop boxes at 13 Madison Fire stations and at the Elver Park Shelter. Equipped to protect ballots against inclement weather and tampering, the boxes will collect absentee ballots until 5 p.m. on Election Day.

The city instituted 1 p.m. and 5 p.m daily pick up times in anticipation of drop boxes becoming more popular for Madison voters, as the number of absentee ballots cast has increased amidst the coronavirus pandemic. 

Of the 189,938 registered voters in Madison, the city has already received 102,811 absentee ballots out of 117,663 requested ballots. These figures dwarf the 2016 general election in which only 66,834 absentee ballots had been requested. 

According to city clerk Public Information Officer Maggie McClain, the city made efforts to increase awareness of how to properly vote by mail-in and absentee ballots, citing Wisconsin’s unique and decentralized electoral system as a source of confusion among voters.

“A lot of people are watching national news, but that might not be how it works in Wisconsin,” McClain said. “It’s not the secretary of state running the election. It’s the clerks.”

At the same time, the clerk’s office created a strong affinity towards absentee voting by polling voters and utilizing an equity analysis after the April primary election on how they would like to cast their ballot. 

“We have the stance in our office that we have voting available in the way that voters want to vote,” McClain said. “We heard that people wanted to vote by mail and vote in person. As long as we’re following state statute, then we’ll make it available.”

Amid a polarized environment across the United States and in Wisconsin around absentee ballots, the city clerk’s office has supported the alternative voting method, even as President Donald Trump spreads false accusations that mail-in voting would cause widespread voter fraud and Wisconsin Republican state legislators echo the president’s calls. 

When Gov. Tony Evers attempted to move the April primary election to entirely mail-in voting, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Racine, followed party lines and condemned the move.

“The governor’s idea is merely a statewide invitation for voter fraud,” Vos said in a statement. “More than 100,000 votes have already been cast and 600,000 additional absentee ballots have been sent out, meaning that a large number of voters could receive two ballots.”

In response to Republican consternation, McClain said the clerk’s office did not believe voter fraud would be an issue heading into the election, noting every ballot would be checked to make sure each vote cast contained the necessary information.

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“We see mail-in [voting] as an option that is available under state law,” McClain said. “What needs to be on there is the signature address, and witness signature. If one of those isn’t on there, we do our best to reach out to them, and If not, we scrap the ballot. It is the law here, so we follow the law.”

As partisan squabbling continues around absentee voting and assurances of protecting the integrity of the election, McClain expressed her confidence that the current system in place will yield accurate results. 

“We’re not worried that all of [the ballots] are counted by election night, but every poll worker will stay until every ballot is counted,” McClain said. 

On Monday, the clerk’s office published another news release detailing the testing, security and tabulation procedures the city would implement in correspondence with the Dane County Clerk’s office leading up to and on Election Day. 

The Dane County Clerk’s office designs and programs the election equipment for its municipalities — including Madison — from a secure computer in a locked room. 

After the County Clerk completes a pre-test of memory sticks that enables voters to mark ballots and for machines to tabulate their votes, the memory sticks are sent to municipal clerks to go through another round of testing to be completed within 10 days of the election as mandated by state law. 

Tamper evident-seals are placed on each tabulator and on Election Day they are checked to ensure the serial numbers match and election officials verify the seals are not broken. 

When the polls close, workers check to see if the number of voters match the number of ballots cast. Results are printed on paper and announced at the polling place; they are later sent back “on modem” to another computer at the Dane County Clerk’s Office. 

Dane County polling places also leave a “paper trail” of all ballots cast which poll workers close up in a bag with tamper evident-seals and send back to the county clerk’s office as well. 

The election results do not become official until appraised by the Board of Canvassers.

On Election Day, the polls will open in Madison at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. 

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