'We still haven't seen a ballot:' Voters say they're disenfranchised after absentee ballots never came
MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As the numbers of voters who cast ballots are coming in, so are the stories of voters who say they weren’t able to do so.
Many groups are now calling attention to what they say is voter disenfranchisement among thousands of people. One of the biggest issues CBS 58 has heard is from voters who say the absentee ballots they requested still have yet to arrive.
Susan Kainz says her mother is 90 years old and in good health, but with some underlying health conditions. Her mother has voted in every election in which she's been able to vote until this week.
Kainz said voting in person wasn't an option for her mother.
"Absolutely not," she said. "There is no way that I would have exposed her. Watching it on TV yesterday -- there were people that showed up. They had no gloves on. They had no masks on."
On Mar. 23, she requested an absentee ballot be sent to her house, where her mom has been staying since temporarily moving out of a senior community during the pandemic. But the ballot never came. A week went by and she called the clerk asking for another.
"It didn't give us much time to receive the ballot, but even up until today, we still haven't seen a ballot for her," Kainz said.
That date, Mar. 23, has a common theme.
"We've heard those dates, too. Between the 22nd and 24th, (the ballots are) showing as 'sent,'" said Meagan Wolfe, administrator for the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The commission is asking the U.S. Postal Service if they know what happened to absentee ballots sent during that time that never arrived to the voters who requested them.
Wolfe said the commission is also looking into an issue involving absentee ballots in Appleton and Oshkosh.
Republican state Sen. Dan Feyen tweeted about it Wednesday afternoon, saying, "I learned today that the WEC received a call from a postal service worker informing them 3 large tubs of absentee ballots from Oshkosh and Appleton, were just located. I understand your frustration and am working hard to try to remedy the situation."
Disability Rights Wisconsin has a non-partisan voting coalition and a hotline to help voters. They received many "heartbreaking" phone calls this week from unable to cast ballots, said Barbara Beckert.
"So many people were disenfranchised and not able to vote," Beckert said. "Thousands of people who did their due diligence, applied for an absentee ballot and did not receive it and therefore, their only option was to put their health and maybe even their life at risk."
Many people with disabilities have pre-existing conditions that prevented them from going to the polls. For those who did vote in person, Beckert said many in Milwaukee were confused about where to go after their polling locations changed. They were also concerned about how to get to the polls because many of the usual transportation options were not available this Election.
Getting witnesses on absentee ballots also proved a challenge for many people with disabilities, Beckert said, especially after the confusion surrounding the court decisions. On April 2, Judge William Conley ruled that voters did not need to get a witness. The next day, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all absentee ballots must have a witness in order to be counted.
Many communities organizations advocating for minority rights also said they feel there was voter disenfranchisement among their members.
"The biggest issue, of course, is that a lot of Latino voters rely on same-day registration," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director for Voces de la Frontera.
She said she also has heard from Latino voters who said their absentee ballots didn't come or they lacked the proper technology to request them. In that case, she said they were faced with a choice: Vote in person or not at all.