-By Appleton Wonk
November 5, 2011- The other day I received a call from a friend of mine, I’ll call her Jane. Jane was very upset and confused because of the letter her father received from the city clerk of Neenah, Patricia A. Sturn. The above letter was her source of confusion. It was sent to “permanent absentee voters.” This letter tells people they need to send their photo ID to the city clerk in order to continue to receive absentee ballots. Her father didn’t want to do this. I didn’t blame him and told her that we would get it sorted out.
My first goal was to figure out what a “permanent absentee voter” is. Permanent absentee voters are registered voters who because of “age, illness, infirmity or disability” can’t make it to the polls. See the Wisconsin Application for Absentee Ballot for details. Once a person checks the box saying they are “permanently confined” they will automatically receive ballots for all future elections until they fail to return a ballot. This means permanent absentees voters only complete this form one time.
The letter from the Neenah city clerk states “Wisconsin Act 23 of 2011 requires electors requesting absentee ballots to provide a copy of identification or any authorized substitute document with his or her application.” If the voter is already registered as a permanent absentee voter they will not be completing an absentee ballot request because they are automatically receiving ballots.
Looking at “Absentee voting Wisconsin’s New Voter Phot ID Law” document from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board I learned that “indefinitely confined electors (permanent absentees)” may provide a substitute document with their absentee ballots. Notice it says provide a substitute document instead of a photo ID with their ballot. This does not say they need to provide a photo ID or substitute document in order to receive a ballot, which is what the Neenah city clerk was stating.
Jane and I went to Neenah city hall and talked to the city clerk about this. Patricia Sturn is a very nice, personable person who takes her job very seriously. She wants to do what’s best for the people she represents and patiently answered all of our questions. We all agreed that permanent absentee voters do not need to provide photo ID in order to receive a ballot. She wanted to get “ahead of the game” because many things were changing at the end of the year. I applaud her wanting to be proactive, but don’t agree with how it’s being handled. Patricia told voters they will not receive a ballot unless they provide information that isn’t required until they submit a completed ballot.
I expressed my concerns that this population may read her letter and send their photo IDs to her office. She mentioned that she hoped people would call her office before doing this and said she was receiving quite a few calls about her letter. I didn’t hear the phone ring one time during the entire time we were speaking with the clerk and her assistant. Jane said she was concerned people wouldn’t want to send their photo ID to the city clerk, they wouldn’t call the office to find out more, they would simply chose not to vote.
Patricia gave Jane an alternative ID document that her office created for permanent absentee voters. She said this document could be completed instead of having people send in a copy of their photo ID. The original letter said nothing about this form. According to the WI GAB web site, the substitute ID document is on the absentee ballot envelope, so am not sure if this is a valid alternative document.
NOTE TO WI PERMANENT ABSENTEE VOTERS (PDF)