In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, 3,027 voters have spoiled 3,227 absentee ballots throughout the state of Wisconsin, which remains a battleground state for the presidential election and a closely contested U.S. Senate seat.
To put that number in context, 775,560 Wisconsinites voted early (early voting ended November 4), according to the Wisconsin Election Commission. That means less than 1 percent of early voters spoiled their first ballot.
Wisconsin is one of just a few states in the country where voters can change their early vote – by up to three times. The state does not require that voters provide a reason for spoiling a ballot, therefore they do not have a system to record such information, even if it the voter requests a new ballot or simply wishes to terminate their ballot.
Anecdotally, though, elections officials say that people changing their votes doesn’t happen very much and the spoiled ballot totals would bear that out. Republican nominee Donald Trump has urged people in states like Wisconsin to change their early votes since the polls have tightened in recent days, but it does not appear that, at least in Wisconsin, there is a surge to do so.
Rather, some voters have changed their ballots because they are afraid the system won’t count them if they don’t come back to cast them in person instead, officials said.
The cities of Madison and Milwaukee, which are the most Democratic areas in the state, as well as the top two most populated, have said they have had around a dozen people come in and ask to change their absentee ballots. Madison has had 35,544 absentee ballots as of Nov. 1 and Milwaukee has had about 57,000 as of Nov 4.
The information received from the Wisconsin Elections Commission includes ballots that had been replaced by voters, ballots sent but not returned, ballots that had to be spoiled by the clerk, and voters who had cancelled their absentee ballot and did not submit a request for a new absentee ballot.
According to Reid Magney, the state elections commission’s public information officer, one of the most common reasons he has heard from municipal clerk offices for spoiling absentee ballots is because voters are not confident that their vote will be counted in the absentee voting process. Trump has made election integrity a key rhetorical point, claiming the system is “rigged” against him.
“[Voters] have they’ve decided that for whatever reason, they do not trust that their absentee ballot will either arrive in the clerk’s office in time to be counted, or they have some doubt that their ballot will be accurately counted,” Magney said in an email to Media Milwaukee. “So they ask the clerk to cancel their ballot because they want to go to the polls on Election Day and put the ballot in the tabulator themselves.”
According to the numbers, at least 200 voters in the state have recast at least one ballot and then soiled an absentee ballot two or three times. Wisconsin allows absentee voters to change their vote up to three times, and is one of only a handful of states that allow voters to recast their absentee or early ballot.
According to Google trends data there was a spike in searching “change early vote” throughout the country on Nov. 2, the day after republican presidential nominee Donald Trump encouraged those who absentee voted for Hillary Clinton to change their votes to support him during a campaign stop in Eau Claire.
The term “how to change early vote” was most searched in Wisconsin during the last week compared to other states where the term was searched. Other terms like “can you change early vote” and “change early vote” were searched by almost every state and again Wisconsin was in the top five states where each term had been searched.
The amount of ballots soiled averages less than two per municipality, which is not limited to voters who have desired to recast their ballot. But according to research done by Media Milwaukee, some municipalities are responsible for a handful cancelled ballots with the intent to recast, while others have seen none for that reason.
The city of Waukesha, in the heart of the most Republican area in the state, began its absentee voting process on Oct. 24 and, as of Nov. 1, no citizens have come in to ask to recast their ballot. On that date, they said that they have had over 7,400 in-person and mailed absentee ballots.
Waukesha, and other cities that have not had voters recast their absentee ballots like Oshkosh and Manitowoc, said most people probably would not know about their ability to change their vote unless if they specifically inquire about it as municipalities are not required to tell voters they are able to change their absentee ballot.
Platteville city clerk Jan Martin said that in her nearly 10 years with the city she had never seen an absentee ballot changed. Kris Teske in Green Bay said that she has seen two people recast their ballot in her 12 years as city clerk.
Most cities, if any, have no record of how many people have requested a new ballot nor do they record what dates ballot termination took place place. The state elections commission does record when and where a ballot was cancelled, but Media Milwaukee was not able to immediately receive that information.
These spoiled ballots do not include absentee ballots that are at risk for being tossed because of a new rule put into place by the state legislature that mailed-in ballots would not be valid if the witness did not provide their full address and municipality.
The most recent Marquette Law School Poll found that Clinton, polling at 46 percent, leads Trump by six points in likely Wisconsin voters. Meanwhile, the senate race is virtually tied with Russ Feingold polling at 45 percent and Ron Johnson polling at 44 percent out of likely voters.