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In 1915, a state law was passed in Wisconsin stipulating that absentee ballots “must be opened only at the polls on election day while said polls are open.” While there have been minor language changes and renumberings throughout the years, the original law remains in place.
Wisconsin is one of nine states with such a restriction. While ballots began arriving at clerks’ offices weeks in advance, poll workers can’t start counting them until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
There have been several Republican and Democratic attempts to change ballot counting in the state, most recently this spring ahead of the 2022 midterms. However, a bill that would have allowed clerks to begin processing ballots one day before Election Day did not make it through the state Senate.
Wisconsin State Legislature: 588 Laws of Wisconsin — Ch.-461.
State of Wisconsin: How your vote gets counted
Wisconsin Public Radio: Why full results in Wisconsin after Election Day may take some time
National Conference of State Legislatures: Table 16: When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing and Counting Can Begin
Wisconsin State Legislature: 2021 Senate Bill 214
Wisconsin Public Radio: Fights over voting, counting absentee ballots dominate Assembly session