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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

UW professors expect a recent Supreme Court ruling will reduce election results delays, but say absentee ballots could be rejected. 

What to expect on election night in Wisconsin

With Election Day just five days away and voter turnout increasing across the nation, many experts believe some results will be delayed.

However, UW Political Science Department Chair Dr. David Canon expects minimal delays in Wisconsin around Election Day, which is Nov. 3.

“I would expect we will know who won the elections here in Wisconsin by late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning; that’s the way it typically goes in Wisconsin elections,” Canon said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday ruled that Wisconsin’s ballots must be received on Election Day by 8 p.m. to be counted. The ruling removed a six-day extension for counting ballots postmarked by Election Day, and it may reduce the turnaround in ballot counting. 

Dr. Barry Burden, UW Political Science Professor and Director of the Elections Research Center, said the ruling could lead to rejected ballots. 

“The Supreme Court decision means that the vote tabulation will finish sooner, but it also means that more otherwise valid absentee ballots will be rejected because they arrive too late,” Burden said. “It is difficult to know how many ballots will fall into this category and whether it will affect the outcome of the presidential race in Wisconsin.”

Canon said that unlike some other battleground states, Wisconsin state law says absentee ballots can only be opened and recorded on Election Day. 

Burden added that results will be released in a “spotty fashion across the state, depending on the amount and handling of absentee ballots in each municipality.”

Canon reminded people who plan to view election coverage that Milwaukee’s results might be delayed. 

“One thing that viewers should keep in mind about Milwaukee is they’re one of the cities in the state that doesn’t count early votes in the precincts,” Canon said. 

This means all absentee ballots, including early in-person ballots, are counted in a central location, which usually delays the report of their results. Canon added that Milwaukee’s results could impact the vote count significantly. 

“Biden might be trailing going into those absentee ballots in Milwaukee, those all get reported at once, and that could be … as many as two hundred thousand votes just plopped down all at once,” Canon explained. “That could really change the result of the election very late in the process.”

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On a national level, Canon said people should watch Pennsylvania and Florida. According to polling website FiveThirtyEight, President Donald Trump has only a two percent chance of re-election if he loses Pennsylvania, while former Vice President Joe Biden has a 30 percent chance of winning the Electoral College if he loses the state.

Pennsylvania is one of the states that, unlike Wisconsin, can count ballots received up to three days later as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, though the extension is facing a new lawsuit by Republicans in the state.

“So if it is a close election we almost certainly won’t know Pennsylvania’s results until Thursday, Friday, Saturday, maybe even a few days longer than that,” said Canon.

Canon suggests those predicting election outcomes before results are released should look to key political regions in Wisconsin, including Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha counties. 

“[Look] at some of the patterns in voting in some of the key counties as they’re coming in, both in terms of turnout and in terms of the percent breakdown,” Canon said.

Wisconsin has ten of the 538 total electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win. The final Marquette Law School poll released Oct. 28 showed 48% of likely voters in Wisconsin support Biden while 43% support Trump. 

There are still opportunities to vote, either on or before Nov. 3. The practical deadline for mailing in ballots has passed, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, but voters can use absentee ballot boxes if they have Madison ballots. 

UW Political Science Professor Kathy Cramer reminded students on Twitter that if their ballots are from outside Madison, they should use express mail delivery or discard the ballot and register to vote at their Madison address. 

For more information about early in-person and election day voting, go to

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Emma Grenzebach

state news writer

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