Voting in Wisconsin
by J.B. Van Hollen
October 27, 2020
This interview with J.B. Van Hollen, the Republican Attorney General of the state of Wisconsin from 2007 until 2015 and cochair of VoteSafe Wisconsin, was conducted and condensed by franknews.
J.B. | In my role as Attorney General, I took the significance of elections and voting extremely seriously. I made sure that our ballots were as secure as possible to ensure that we didn’t have voter fraud, and also to give everyone who is entitled to vote, an opportunity to vote.
VoteSafe is a national organization. I was asked to be co-chair of this coalition along with the current Attorney General of the opposite political party, Josh Kaul. We have many active and outspoken Republicans and Democrats that are a part of our organization. VoteSafe was formed to be a bipartisan voice to encourage people to vote and to inform them of how they can do so in a safe and secure manner.
The Wisconsin primaries were a rough trial run of voting during COVID. What did Wisconsin install to ensure there is a difference between the primaries and the general?
In-person polling places have done a good job of implementing separation and sanitization. They let one person into the polling place at a time, and that person votes on their own. Once they're gone, workers will sanitize the polling location. Everything that was touched or close to the previous voter will be sanitized. While they take the opportunity to sanitize, the next voter shows their identification through a glass window to the poll worker. Then, they come into the polling location and the process repeats itself.
Do you need a specific excuse to obtain an absentee ballot?
You don't need to have a specific excuse — anyone who is registered in Wisconsin can get an absentee ballot.
You request an absentee ballot either in person or through the mail. The envelope has to be signed and addressed by you, and it has to include a witnesses’ name and address. The ballots can then be dropped off at a municipal clerk's office, at several drop boxes around the state, or they can be mailed back.
Is this a new process for Wisconsin?
We have had an absentee balloting process for as long as I can remember the state of Wisconsin. We're not concerned about it functioning well because we've used it for so long. The only concern that people seem to have in Wisconsin about absentee voting is the numbers of absentee ballots being requested and submitted. These are extremely high numbers compared to the past.
Right. Nationally, it seems that we are being fed two concerning narratives about the election — the threat of voter suppression and of voter fraud. Do you think there is a threat of either of those things in Wisconsin?
In Wisconsin, I feel very good about things. I think voting in Wisconsin is about as secure as probably any state, and also about as accessible as any state.
I worked very hard to implement a photo ID requirement for voting quite a few years ago. People who don't have photo IDs can get them for free through the Department of Transportation in Wisconsin. And on the other end, we have many, many different groups out there trying to register voters and encouraging them to vote.
Voter ID laws are among the most contested points of voter suppression. You spoke about counteracting ID restrictions by setting up a program so that you can get IDs you can get for free. Why do you think that is necessary? Do you see that sort of tradeoff in any other areas?
Well, the other thing is that since the polling places could move slowly, there might be long lines. But you don’t have to get into the polling place by the end of voting hours, you just have to have been in line. This is how we are trying to ensure that even if the lines might be going a little bit slower, people's ability to vote is not restricted.
Are there any other important dates in this process that readers should take note of?
It is important that people cast their absentee ballots sufficiently in advance of election day to ensure they are counted.
Right now, there is a legal debate over whether ballots that are postmarked on election day but received after can still be counted. The latest ruling is that they cannot be — ballots need to be received at the clerk's office by election day.
Even though you technically have up until five days before election day to mail them, there's no guarantee the ballots are going to get there in time. It is important not to push dates.
Do you or does VoteSafe take any position on that ruling?
No. One of the goals of our group is to keep it nonpartisan. All we're doing is as a group is saying that we have very, very good voting laws currently in Wisconsin, and if you follow those laws, your vote is going to be counted and it's going to be safe and secure. Any of these other laws just expand your abilities. Follow the law and it really won't matter to you what these rulings are.
What is the point of restricting the ballots that count in that way?
You know, I really don't know what the argument is other than getting a more rapid, timely response, and to know what the election results are moving forward. Obviously, if absentee ballots can be counted for six days after the election, the entire election of a president of the United States could be in limbo for six days while the country waits for the Wisconsin vote to come in.
Got it. As Wisconsin is such a critical state, is there anything that readers should know or that the public should be watching?
Not really. I think we're going to have a high turnout. We know that there is going to be a lot of absentee ballots cast, and you can't even start counting or looking at those absentee ballots until election day. It is important to note that it could be the next day or even beyond before we have vote totals.