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United States

Wisconsin Assembly to vote on early ballot processing bill

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin elections officials would be able to process absentee ballots the day before an election under a bill scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Republican-controlled state Assembly.

The Republican-backed measure is intended to ease the workload of local clerks and their staff, who run elections and try to ensure that ballot-counting doesn’t stretch late into election night.

Under the bill, elections workers would not be allowed to count ballots until after polls close on election day, but they could work ahead to check ballot envelopes for necessary information, verify voter eligibility and take ballots out of envelopes to prepare them for tallying.

Currently, Wisconsin elections workers cannot process absentee ballots until polls open at 7 a.m. on election day. This has led to long processing times for larger cities such as Madison and Milwaukee, sometimes causing swings in initial tallies when large batches of election results are reported late at night. Former President Donald Trump and election skeptics have falsely claimed that those so-called ballot dumps are the result of election fraud.

The Legislature has rejected similar proposals that would have allowed early ballot processing in recent years, despite them receiving bipartisan support. The bill up for a vote on Thursday, which also includes new reporting requirements for local elections officials on election night, was not sponsored by any Democratic lawmakers.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has vetoed numerous elections overhauls passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature, proposed allowing early ballot processing in his budget proposal earlier this year. That plan was scrapped by Republicans, and it’s not clear whether the governor would sign the current bill if it were to reach his desk in its current state.

Speaking about the measure last month in an interview with WisconsinEye, Evers said, “That would help a lot, so if they bring that to me in a reasonable format I certainly will sign it.”

Evers did not immediately respond to a Thursday email asking if he would sign the most recent version of the bill.

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Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Harm Venhuizen, The Associated Press