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How Votes Will Be Counted in the Election

By the Wisconsin Elections Commission

MADISON – Wisconsin election officials will be working overtime on Election Night to deliver

complete and accurate election results to to the public and the news media, according to the

Wisconsin Elections Commission.

“Due to the pandemic and the high number of absentee ballots, it will likely be Wednesday

before all the unofficial results are in,” said Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief election official.

“It doesn’t mean something went wrong – it means election officials are doing their jobs and

making sure every legitimate ballot gets counted.”

“It is important for voters and the media to understand how votes are counted in Wisconsin,”

Wolfe said. “When people make assumptions about vote counting based on what happens in

other states or rumors, it can lead to misinformation.”

The WEC has produced a series of short videos and fact sheets for voters explaining how

absentee voting works, how ballots are counted, how Wisconsin ensures accurate results, and

how long it may take to get election results.

The videos are online at

Here are important things to know about what happens after voting ends on Election Day as

Wisconsin’s ballots are counted and triple-checked before the results become official.

Counting and Reporting Unofficial Results on Election Night

Wisconsin has never had a statewide system for reporting unofficial results on Election Night, and there is no central official website where results will be reported, Wolfe said. “Most of the

unofficial results the public sees on Election Night and in the following days come from the Associated Press.”

For many decades, the AP has collected unofficial results from county clerks’ offices and distributed totals to its member newspapers and radio and TV stations. In recent years, other news organizations have also begun collecting and reporting unofficial Wisconsin results. Election night declarations of victory are based on prediction s and incomplete results. Winners are not official until the results are certified, which by Wisconsin state law happens on December 1.

For members of the public and the media who want detailed unofficial results directly from

county clerks’ offices, the WEC will provide links to the 72 county clerk websites from the

homepage of its website: There will also be a link on the front page of

Wolfe said that because of the high numbers of absentee ballots to be counted, it is hard to

predict when those unofficial results will be posted on the county clerks’ websites. She

explained the steps that go into getting those results from polling places to the counties.

Wolfe said the polls normally close at 8 p.m. unless there are still voters waiting in line at 8 p.m.

If there are still absentee ballots that have not yet been counted at 8 p.m., poll workers will

continue processing them until they are finished. State law does not permit them to stop working until all of the absentee ballots have been counted.

“There are three steps to Wisconsin’s certification process,” Wolfe said. The first step starts at

the polling place.”

Once all the ballots have been fed into the voting equipment and the polls are officially closed, the poll workers will convene what is known as the board of local canvassers. This is a public meeting and the media and public are welcome to attend. The voting equipment will print a results tape, which will be read aloud, announcing the vote totals for that polling place.

Members of the public and the media at the polling place may view, copy or photograph the

results tapes from voting equipment. The poll workers will also take care of administrative

work, including sealing ballot bags and filling out chain-of-custody reports required before

taking everything to the municipal clerk.

Municipal clerks provide unofficial results to their county clerks, who will post them to the

county’s website. Municipal clerks must report unofficial results to the county clerk within two hours of the results being tabulated, and county clerks must post the results within two hours of receiving them from the municipal clerk.

Central Count Absentee Ballot Processing

Wolfe said that the results may come in differently for 39 cities, villages and towns that count all their absentee ballots at a central facility. Several large cities including Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine and Wausau count their absentee ballots centrally. A full list of the

municipalities which use central count can be found here:

Central count facilities are open during Election Day and after 8 p.m. for public and media

observation until counting is complete. At these facilities, election inspectors will be reviewing

return envelopes for required information before recording these ballots in the poll book. Once a voter number is assigned to the voter, each envelope will be opened, the ballot will be removed and flattened, and the ballot will then be processed on the voting equipment.

It is important for the media and the public to understand the difference between places that

count absentee ballots at polling places and central locations because unofficial Election Night results from central count municipalities may not all arrive in the county clerk’s office at the same time.

Wolfe said this delay in reporting has caused some confusion in the past, and the WEC has

worked closely with county clerks this year to ensure that visitors to their websites receive clear notices about whether the unofficial results are complete.

Unofficial election results from municipalities that use central count may be provided to the

county clerks and the public in two different phases. The initial results will either be the totals

from ballots cast in person at the polling place on Election Day or may be the totals from

absentee ballots processed at central count. Once both results sets are available, the vote totals from absentee ballots will be added to the polling place totals and complete results sets for each ward will then be posted.

Results for each ward in the municipality, or municipalities, that use central count to process

absentee ballots should not be considered as complete until all absentee totals have been added to the polling place totals.

Further Certifying the Vote

Wolfe said the second step of the certification process is at the county level. Each county has a boards of canvassers which must start meeting by 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10 to begin

certifying official results. These are also public meetings. The county