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Absentee ballot request form proposal takes step forward as Pres. Trump continues criticism of voting by mail

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted to move forward with a proposal to send absentee ballot request forms to most voters in the state as the topic of voting by mail continues in the national spotlight with President Trump’s fixation on the process and concerns of exceedingly rare cases of fraud.

The WEC unanimously supported a proposal to send request forms – not ballots themselves – to about 2.7 million registered voters who don’t already have a request on file and who have not moved since they last voted.

The aim is to alleviate the workload on municipalities as well as lower the number of in-person voters to decrease the potential of spreading the coronavirus.

The mailings explaining the process to request absentee ballots are set to go out this summer ahead of the November election, but the three Republican and three Democrat commissioners still have to sign off on the wording of what will ultimately be sent to voters, something that may cause the commission to be split along partisan lines.

“June 10 we come back and then we’re going to sit there and someone’s going to say ‘Oh I don’t like this letter’ and then we’re stuck at three [votes to] three and we got all this money and then what happens to it?” Mark Thomsen, one of the commissioners appointed by Democrats said in the meeting Wednesday.

“This is anything but a simple letter,” Bob Spindell, one of the commissioners appointed by Republicans said. “It seems to me that Commissioners Thomsen and Ann are in the process of pushing the democratic agenda of an all-mail election.”

The topic of voting by mail has gained national attention because President Trump has claimed, without presenting evidence, that increased volume of voting by mail will lead to substantial voter fraud.

Experts say that’s not true.

“The system is generally quite secure,” Barry Burden, a political science professor at UW-Madison told CBS 58. “There’s very little evidence of vote fraud happening with in-person voting or absentee voting.”

Burden, who is also the director of the Election Research Center at UW, noted that Wisconsin’s voter ID and witness requirements for absentee ballots prevents issues the president is concerned with and that any significant efforts to commit large-scale voter fraud requires lots of organizing and time, especially if the target is absentee ballots.

On top of that, Burden said research has shown that voting by mail has not historically benefited either Republicans or Democrats. He added that sending absentee ballot request forms is a good first step to avoid problems that were experienced during the April 7 election but that more needs to be done ahead of November, especially with in-person voting.

“I think there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of locating proper polling places, deciding how much consolidation makes sense, and what to do in terms of social distancing to make sure voters and poll workers are protected,” Burden said.

The WEC meets in June to approve the final mailing that will go out to eligible voters.

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