Wisconsin county says ballot misprint will delay count

Officials in a northeastern Wisconsin county said Monday that a technical ballot misprint will most likely delay the counting of some absentee ballots on Election Day, but they reassured the public that all ballots will be counted.

The misprint is a scratch that is described as no wider than a fingernail on a timing mark at the edge of the Outagamie County ballot, and it does not impact any contests, candidates or ballot referenda. At least 5,500 absentee ballots are affected, and possibly more, according to an Oct. 15 letter the county sent to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

The county’s letter seeks an extension to count its absentee ballots beyond the deadline of 4 p.m. on Nov. 4, and it is also asking permission to hand count only those absentee ballots that are rejected, rather than duplicate all ballots as required by law.

Wisconsin is a closely watched battleground in next month’s election. Outagamie County, near Green Bay, backed Donald Trump by 13 points in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.

As absentee and early voting have surged this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly raised questions about the security of such early voting, heightening attention to issues like the Outagamie County misprint. The county held a news conference to explain the misprint, releasing an image of the flawed ballot and a timeline of its handling of the matter.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission plans to address the issue during a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday. A draft letter from the commission in response to the county says that as an administrative state agency, the commission doesn’t have authority to extend or modify statutory deadlines.

The commission’s response paves the way for the county to take its request for an extension to the state Supreme Court.

County Clerk Lori O’Bright said in a statement that the county’s testing protocols caught the misprint in time for the print vendor to replace all ballots that will be used for early, in-person voting starting Tuesday.

“Voters who received an absentee ballot with the misprint need not take any action – their votes will be counted," she said. She expressed confidence in the integrity of the election, pointing out that the system worked as intended.

“This is a perfect example of why we have testing procedures in place,” she said.

Outagamie County Deputy Corporation Counsel Kyle Sargent reiterated that all ballots would be counted, saying there are safeguards in place to ensure accuracy, including having witnesses observe the process.