What did the WEC tell clerks about fixing problems with witness addresses on absentee ballot certificates?

Clerks are not required by state law to contact voters who submit absentee ballots with signatures or addresses missing from the certificate, but the WEC and its predecessor agencies have long advised clerks to attempt to contact voters to correct these kinds of problems if they can before the election.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law stating: “If a certificate is missing the address of a witness, the ballot may not be counted.” 

After the law passed, many people became concerned that some voters were not aware of the requirement for a complete witness address. In October 2016, the WEC voted to advise clerks they could fix missing witness address components based on “reliable information.”  The motion to approve the guidance was made and seconded by Republican members of the Commission and it passed unanimously. Ultimately, there must be a witness address on the certificate in order for the ballot to be counted.  

The guidance had been in effect for 11 statewide elections, including the 2016 presidential and presidential recount, and no one objected to it until just before the November 2020 election.

The guidance was designed to ensure that voters would not be penalized if witnesses left off an element of their address, like the city. When the WEC communicated with clerks about the issue of how to handle absentee certificates with missing address information, it was simply reiterating its longstanding guidance.