Poll workers collect absentee ballots at 200+ Madison parks

A poll worker at Elver Park puts a completed absentee ballot into a bag, as part of the city's "Democracy in the Park" event.
A poll worker at Elver Park puts a completed absentee ballot into a bag, as part of the city's "Democracy in the Park" event.(WMTV/Michelle Baik)
Published: Sep. 26, 2020 at 6:15 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The City of Madison turned more than 200 parks into drop-off points for absentee ballots, after Republican lawmakers raised questions about the event’s legitimacy.

As explained by City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, the event called “Democracy in the Park,” was “created by, planned by, staffed by, and funded by the City Clerk’s Office alone.”

Witzel-Behl said, “There were so many voters concerned that they didn’t want to put their ballot in the mail to return it.”

On Friday, the office reported issuing more than 88,000 absentee ballots.

But a letter released the same day, written on behalf of State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, called the event an “illegal collection of ballots.” According to the letter, they believe the event falls outside of a statute of Wisconsin law that describes methods for how voters can return their completed absentee ballots.

“The threat that this procedure poses to ballot integrity is manifestly obvious,” the letter also wrote.

The message for Witzel-Behl to “abandon this unlawful effort immediately,” was issued weeks after the city first announced the event.

On Saturday, the City of Madison attorney responded to the letter issued by Republicans. City Attorney Michael Haas explains the procedures City of Madison poll workers are taking to secure all the absentee ballots.

In the letter, Haas also invites lawmakers to ask any further questions directly instead of using a tactic that “signals a desire to simply discourage participation by voters in Madison.”

Witzel-Behl described to NBC15 how poll workers were to handle returned ballots, and those on site echoed the instructions: At each location, the ballots will go into a secure bag, which will then be shut with a seal. Before the bag heads to the Clerk’s Office, the poll workers will document its serial number and keep a record of how many ballots are inside. The clerk’s staff will do their count and check that the records match up.

Poll worker Marnia Hann at Elver Park added, the bag is “under surveillance by all of us poll workers who are under oath.” Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, another poll worker at High Point Park, explained she is neither there to hand out empty ballots nor process completed ones.

“From our perspective at the Clerk’s Office, we don’t care who you are casting your ballot for,” Witzel-Behl said. “All we are striving for is to make sure that everybody in Madison who is eligible to vote is able to do so and that their ballot is going to be counted on election day.”

The City has planned one more “Democracy in the Park” event for Saturday, October 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at these locations.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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