Wisconsin Voting 101: Absentee ballots, key deadlines and where to turn for help

UPDATE: On Sept. 21, a federal judge ruled that absentee ballots in Wisconsin can be counted up to six days after Election Day as long as they are postmarked by the election, a decision that’s being appealed.

Like so much else in 2020, the coronavirus has mucked up voting. So, as the November 3 presidential election looms, it’s understandable if voters are confused. A typical election year already brings up a lot of questions. Throw in the flurry of election-related lawsuits and contradictory judicial rulings that Wisconsin experienced earlier this year, plus concerns that voting in-person will expose people to the virus, and … well, things have gotten complicated.

I recently participated in the City of Madison’s Voter Education Ambassador program, designed to educate participants on current voting laws so that they can share accurate information with others. So, while I’m not a voting expert, I can give you some answers to the things people are wondering this year, such as important dates, how absentee voting is working, Democracy in the Park details, and resources for additional information and help.

(Most of this information is for all Wisconsin voters. Some of it is Madison-specific. Call your local city clerk if you need local information.)

On November 3, we get to pick who we want to represent us at all levels of government.

It’s beautiful, awesome and powerful. Please vote!


  • SEPT. 26 AND OCT. 3: City of Madison’s Democracy in the Parks event (See below for more details.)
  • OCT. 6: Last day to move if you want to register to vote at your new address. New state law requires that you reside there at least 28 days before the election. If you move after Oct. 6, you can still vote, but you need to use your old address/polling place.
  • OCT. 14: Last day to register to vote online or via mail. After then, you can still register to vote, including on Election Day, but you have to do it in person.
  • OCT. 20: In-person absentee voting begins, including at libraries. In Madison at least, voting will be done outside to limit coronavirus risks.
  • OCT. 29: Deadline for requesting an absentee ballot.


Wisconsin clerks sent out more than 1 million absentee ballots this week, an unprecedented number for the Badger State. For perspective, in the last presidential election, 819,316 Wisconsinites voted absentee. That includes in person absentee voting, which is popular and doesn’t start this year for almost another month. Technically, you have until October 29 to request an absentee ballot. But between more people voting absentee due to coronavirus and worries over postal-service delays, municipal clerks are all but begging voters to request their absentee ballots ASAP.

You can request an absentee ballot online at myvote.wi.gov, by emailing your municipal clerk or by mailing in a written request.

The clerk’s office needs to receive your ballot no later than Election Day. But if you’re afraid it won’t get there on time, you CAN deliver your absentee ballot to your polling place ON Election Day. The City of Madison also is installing 14 absentee ballot drop-off boxes around the city in early October. (A list of places you can drop off your ballot with an approved election clerk, who can serve as your absentee ballot witness, can be found here.)

Didn’t receive your ballot or not sure if you can return it on time? As long as you haven’t submitted it, you can still vote in person. You’re NOT allowed to submit an absentee ballot and then vote in person: That’s called voting twice, and, well, breaking the law is bad. (FYI, in case you’re wondering: Absentee ballots are tabulated just like in-person votes. The ballots are delivered to the voter’s polling place, unopened, on Election Day. There, poll workers open the ballots one by one. Each absentee vote is given a voter number and logged by the voter’s name in the poll book as an absentee vote, and then the poll worker feeds the ballot in the tabulating machine. All absentee ballots are tabulated on Election Day. UPDATE: As noted above, a federal judge has ruled that absentee ballots can be counted up to six days after the election in Wisconsin as long as they are postmarked by the election, a ruling that’s being appealed.)


The City of Madison is doing something super cool this year to help people be able to vote.

On Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 (rain dates Sept. 27 and Oct. 4), at least two poll workers will be stationed in EVERY neighborhood, community and mini park, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Want to hand deliver your absentee ballot? Come to the park.

Need a witness to sign your absentee ballot envelope? Come to the park.

Need to register to vote? Come to the park.

In addition to having poll workers available to help voters, the clerk’s office will have couriers shuttling between parks throughout the event to collect submitted paperwork. It is, Witzel-Behl said, the “biggest registration drive ever in this city.”


First thing’s first: Your No. 1 source of information for voting should be myvote.wi.gov. That’s where you can find out if you’re registered to vote, request an absentee ballot and track it, see your sample ballot, etc. Still stuck or confused? You can always contact your county or city clerk’s office for information. Just keep in mind that they’re incredibly busy at election time!

There are also several groups whose goal it is to help voters. Among those:

Voting can be confusing and overwhelming in the best of times. And, well, 2020 isn’t the best of times for anybody. But the good news is there’s plenty of help if you need it.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. Please vote!

Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.


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