AMENDED: Missing or Insufficient Witness Address on Absentee Certificate Envelopes

PLEASE NOTE:  The previous guidance on this topic, which was issued on October 4, 2016, has been modified by the WEC and is replaced with the guidance below. 

One of the components of 2015 Wisconsin Act 261 is the requirement for an absentee ballot witness to provide their address when signing the absentee certificate envelope. 

SECTION 78. 6.87 (6d) of the statutes is created to read:
6.87 (6d) If a certificate is missing the address of a witness, the ballot may not be counted.

In implementing this requirement, the first question that comes to mind is “What constitutes an address?”  The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) has set a policy that a complete address contains a street number, street name and name of municipality.  But in many cases, at least one component of the address could be missing; usually the municipality. 

The purpose of this memorandum is to offer guidance to assist you in addressing this issue. The WEC has determined that clerks must take corrective actions in an attempt to remedy a witness address error.  If clerks are reasonably able to discern any missing information from outside sources, clerks are not required to contact the voter before making that correction directly to the absentee certificate envelope. 

Clerks may contact voters and notify them of the address omission and the effect if the deficiency is not remedied but contacting the voter is only required if clerks cannot remedy the address insufficiency from extrinsic sources. When contacting a voter, you should advise that their ballot will not be counted with an incomplete address so that they can take action and also prevent a similar issue in the future. Clerks shall offer suggestions for correcting the certificate envelope to ensure the voter’s absentee ballot will not be rejected.

Clerks shall assist in rehabilitating an absentee certificate that does not contain the street number and street name (or P.O. Box) and the municipality of the witness address.  If a clerk adds information to an absentee certificate, either based on contact with the voter or based on other sources, clerks shall indicate such assistance was provided by initialing next to the information that was added on the absentee certificate.  The Commission recognized the concern some clerks have expressed about altering information on the certificate envelope, especially in the case of a recount.  On balance, in order to promote uniformity in the treatment of absentee ballots statewide, the Commission determined that clerks must attempt to obtain any information that is missing from the witness address and document any addition by including their initials.

In short, the Commission’s guidance is that municipal clerks shall do all that they can reasonably do to obtain any missing part of the witness address.  Those steps may include one or more of the following options:

1.    The clerk is able to reasonably discern the missing address or address component by information appearing on the envelope or from some other source, such as:

o    The voter has provided his or her complete address and the clerk has personal knowledge that the witness resides at the same address as the voter.
o    The clerk has personal knowledge of the witness and knows his/or her address.
o    The voter’s complete address appears on the address label, and the witness indicates the same street address as the voter.
o    The clerk is able to utilize lists or databases at his or her disposal to determine the witness’s address.

2.    The voter or witness may wish to appear in person to add the missing information, or provide the address information by phone, fax, email or mail.  The voter may provide the address separately as an alternative to returning the certificate envelope and having the voter mail it back again as outlined below.

3.    The voter may request that the clerk return the certificate envelope so the voter can personally add the witness address.

o    Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope in which the voter may return the certificate envelope containing the ballot.  The post office does not approve of placing another stamp over a cancelled stamp.  Contact your postmaster or a Mail Piece Design Analyst before attempting to re-stamp or re-meter the certificate envelope.  Also, note that the U.S. Postal Service is advising that voters mail absentee ballots at least one week before Election Day to accommodate new delivery standards.  We suggest advising the voter of the importance of timely mailing if the voter wishes to have the certificate envelope mailed back to them.

4.    The voter may wish to spoil the original ballot and vote a new one.

If the request to spoil the ballot is within the proper time frame, the clerk mails a second ballot and new certificate envelope to the voter.  (See procedure for Spoiling and Replacement Ballots, beginning on page 109 of Election Administration Manual.)

I hope this guidance is helpful as you continue to issue and receive absentee ballots.  Thank you for your efforts to assist voters in completing the absentee certificate sufficiently so their votes may be counted.

If you have questions, please contact the Elections Help Desk at 608-261-2028 or @email.