The number of returned military absentee ballots did in fact decrease between the 2020 and 2022 General Elections. However, this decrease aligns with longstanding trends and follows a pattern dating to at least 2016.
Determining the number of military members who voted absentee in an election is done by calculating the number of all voters designated as military voters within Wisconsin’s voter registration list whose voter record indicates that their method of voting was absentee.
For a voter’s military status to be indicated in the statewide voter registration system, said voter would need to indicate military status through the registration process, through using the military procedure for requesting an absentee ballot, or by filling out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).
Having military status exempts a voter from registration (although they may still choose to register) and from the requirement that they present a photo ID to vote absentee.
However, many voters designated as military in the statewide voter registration system may choose to vote at the polls or via absentee ballot using the same voting procedures as non-military voters, which would include providing photo ID. In other words, just because a person is designated as a military voter in the statewide registration list does not mean that person requested an absentee ballot using the military absentee ballot procedures for a specific election.
Some sources appear to be misconstruing a data report from November 2022 showing the number of Wisconsin military members who voted in previous elections. This data appears to have been purchased from the Wisconsin Elections Commission prior to the November 2022 General Election and appears to show total military voter participation (meaning both absentee and at-the-polls voting) in past elections. These sources also discuss military voter participation for the 2022 election. The data purchased from the WEC does not include military voter participation for the November 2022 General Election.
Importantly, these sources conflate total voter turnout from military voters in prior elections with an unexplained figure, believed to refer to either military absentee applications or returned absentee ballots recorded in the statewide system at a fixed point in time.
After each election, the WEC produces a public report that shows the number of absentee ballots returned by military voters. Importantly, this report provides data on the number of absentee ballots, not total military voters.
Our most recent data for the November 2022 General Election shows that 1,953 absentee ballots were returned by military voters. These numbers will change as more jurisdictions enter their data for the election.
The following number of military absentee ballots were returned in Wisconsin (this is distinct from military voter participation, which accounts for voters, not ballots):
-2022 General Election: 1,631 military ballots returned
-2020 General Election: 6,886 military ballots returned
-2018 General Election: 1,436 military ballots returned
-2016 General Election: 3,036 military ballots returned
Note: Military ballot data for the 2016 General Election includes both by-mail and in-person absentee ballots, while 2018-2022 data only includes by-mail ballots. 2022 figures have been updated to reflect more recent data.
The above data shows a consistent trend: The number of returned military absentee ballots hovers around 0.3% of the total number of absentee ballots cast in the election for the 2016, 2018, 2020, and, according to initial data, the 2022 election, showing there is not an aberration in the number of military ballots in any of those elections. In other words, military ballot volume is directly proportional to overall absentee volume, a trend in place since at least 2016.
There are a variety of reasons why the number of absentee ballots returned by military voters (as well as the total number of absentee ballots returned by the general population) fluctuates. In 2020, total use of absentee ballots was up across the board as voters sought out new options during the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher or lower than usual numbers of absentee ballots returned by military voters in a given election alone is not indicative of anything wrong or abnormal.
The data we provide above shows the number of absentee ballots returned by military members and does not include ballots cast in-person at the polls by military members, unlike the data shared by sources that has been misconstrued. Unlike official election results, which are certified, the provided statistics are not official numbers, meaning the numbers may change over time as local election officials update their statistics or enter missing data.
Below, we have provided more information regarding the source of the military absentee ballot data provided in this article.
-2022 General Election: 2022 General Election Voting and Registration Statistics Report | Wisconsin Elections Commission
Click on "2022 General Election Statistics Report 2023-01-03.xlsx"
-2020 General Election: 2020 General Election Voting and Registration Statistics Report (formerly EL-190F) | Wisconsin Elections Commission
Click on “2020 General Election (EL-190F) Election Statistics Report 2021-05-10.xlsx”
-2018 General Election: 2018 General Election EL-190F: Election Voting and Registration Statistics Report | Wisconsin Elections Commission
Click on “EL-190 2018 General Election report 2019-05-07.xlsx”
-2016 General Election: 2016 General Election EL-190F: Election Voting and Registration Statistics Report | Wisconsin Elections Commission
Click on “2016 General Election Summary Statistics.pdf”