Wisconsin lawmakers consider text messages for absentee ballots



(The Center Square) – Voters in Wisconsin could soon get a text message to go along with their absentee ballots.

The Senate Committee On Elections on Tuesday held a hearing on a plan that would have the Wisconsin Elections Commission send people a text message when they request an absentee ballot and send another text message when their local election clerk receives their absentee ballot.

State Rep David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said the idea is to make sure people can track their ballot and have confidence in using absentee ballots.

“We can provide a higher level of customer service, an increased level of transparency and security and also alleviate some of the pressure on our municipal clerks by adding a very simple process,” Steffen said.

Wisconsin saw a huge increase in the number of people who voted with absentee ballots in the 2020 election, and Stefan says he expects similar numbers in next year’s election as well.

“Back in 2020 there was a record 800,000 individual voters in Wisconsin who chose to vote by absentee ballot,” Steffen said. “And I think none of us would be surprised if in this upcoming presidential election, we eclipse the 1 million mark.”

The text messages would come from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, not local clerks. Steffen said the system would piggyback on Wisconsin’s my vote system and would be as automated as possible.

“[We can] help out some of our clerks who are going to increase their volume of work over the years,” Steffen said. “This is something that will be a valuable tool in my estimation.”

Steffen said it would take just $25,000 to start up, and $5,000 each year after that to run.

State Sen. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, wanted to know if the new text message system would help people flag absentee ballots that may not have been counted in the past.

“I want to make sure, obviously, that we’re not giving somebody false assurance that their vote is going to count,” Spreitzer said. “But it does seem like this could be another important tool for helping people fix those kind of issues.”

Steffen said by attaching a phone number, the elections commission and local clerks have a quick and easy way to get a hold of people if there is a problem with their ballot so they can correct it before ballots are counted.

Steffen said the text message plan is just the first step. He wants to offer more services as well, but he said he wants to get this one up and running well ahead of the 2024 election.

“I really want them to get this done in less than six months because I would like this to be ready for our spring elections, as kind of the test run so at the very first time we’re not using this is in our presidential general,” Steffen said.



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