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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

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Erin Gretzinger / Wisconsin WatchReporting Intern

Erin Gretzinger joined Wisconsin Watch as a reporting intern in May 2022. She is a journalism and French major at UW-Madison and will graduate in spring 2023. Erin previously worked for the Wisconsin State Journal as a reporting intern and served as the 2021-22 editor-in-chief at The Badger Herald. She is a recipient of the Jon Wolman Scholarship, the Sigrid Schultz Scholarship and the Joseph Sicherman Award Fund for her academic and reporting work.