How In-Person Absentee Ballots Are Processed

How In-Person Absentee Ballots Are Processed

What happens to an absentee ballot cast in person at a City of Madison early voting site, such as a Madison Public Library?

Voters have been asking the volunteers and librarians at the Madison early voting sites about the process for handling the absentee ballots. The ballots (and associated registration forms) are collected at the end of the day and picked up by individuals working for the Clerk’s Office. Each courier signs a lilac chain of custody declaration, and the red courier bag of ballots is sealed. The courier then transports the ballot bag to the Clerk’s office by the next morning.

Packets of in-person absentee ballots (with their lilac chain of custody declarations attached) in the vault at the City Clerk's office. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)

Packets of in-person absentee ballots (with their lilac chain of custody declarations attached) in the vault at the City Clerk's office. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)

Clerk staff enter data from any registration forms into the statewide voter registration system, and then review the absentee ballot envelopes to make sure the voters are registered City of Madison voters. A printed label is generated for each absentee ballot envelope with the voter’s name, address, and ward number.

All the absentee ballots are sorted and stored in the vault at the City Clerk's office. Then they are delivered to the correct polling places on Election Day. The envelopes are reviewed by poll workers and each valid absentee voter is announced at the poll book and receives a voting number, just as if the voter showed up in person.

The envelopes are opened in batches so no ballot can be associated with a specific envelope. The ballots are then inserted into the tabulator by poll workers.

Trays of in-person absentee ballots, sorted by ward, in the vault at the City Clerk's office. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)

Trays of in-person absentee ballots, sorted by ward, in the vault at the City Clerk's office. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)

In the vault, sorted ballots are placed into larger envelopes to be delivered to polling locations on Election Day. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)

In the vault, sorted ballots are placed into larger envelopes to be delivered to polling locations on Election Day. (Photo courtesy of Maribeth Witzel-Behl.)


And now, some mistaken ideas are corrected...

Myth #1: Absentee ballots are only counted if the election is close.
Fact: ALL valid absentee ballots are counted.

Myth #2: If a voter casts an absentee ballot but dies before election day, the vote will count.
Fact: If there Election Inspectors have reliable information that the voter has died, the absentee ballot will not be processed or counted. 

Myth #3: Absentee ballots are counted as they come in.
Fact: Absentee ballots are counted at the voter's regular polling place on Election Day. 

Myth #4: Absentee ballots are processed after the polls close.
Fact: Absentee ballots are processed throughout Election Day, including after 8 pm, if necessary. You may see or hear poll workers announcing voter names and addresses at the poll book, and receiving slips for absentee ballots. You may also see them feeding in several absentee ballots into the tabulator. 

Myth #5: Absentee ballots received after Election Day but before Friday afternoon at 4 pm will be counted at the canvass. 
Fact: The law has changed. Beginning with the November election, absentee ballots received after Election Day cannot be counted. Only provisional ballots, voted on election day and subsequently "cured" by the voter providing voter ID, will be counted at the canvass.

Myth #6: Every absentee ballot received by Election Day will be counted.
Fact: An absentee ballot will be rejected if:

  • The envelope is not sealed.
  • The voter has not signed the outside of the envelope.
  • The voter's signature has not been witnessed.
  • The witness did not include a street number, street address, and municipality, and the Clerk or Election Inspector was unable to complete the address.
  • The voter dies before Election Day.

    (This list is not exhaustive.)