MADISON – No Wisconsin absentee ballots were found in mail discovered in a ditch in the Fox Valley last week, the state’s top election official said Thursday.
Three trays of mail were found in a ditch in Greenville last week, and the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office said at the time it included several absentee ballots.
Meagan Wolfe, director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said during a virtual news conference Thursday that no Wisconsin absentee ballots were found. She said she did not know if there were ballots from other states.
“There was mail found outside of Appleton and that mail did not include any Wisconsin ballots,” Wolfe said.
When news broke about mail in a ditch, the White House seized on the situation to rail against mail voting as “a system that’s subject to fraud.”
“In fact, in the last 24 hours, police in Greenville, Wisconsin, found mail in a ditch, and it included absentee ballots,” said Kayleigh McEnany, President Donald Trump’s press secretary.
In Tuesday’s debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump contended ballots had been found in creeks, in what may have been a reference to Wisconsin.
The Republican president has repeatedly raised doubts about mail voting, but election experts have said the mail provides a safe and reliable way to cast ballots.
The U.S. Postal Service has said it is investigating what happened in Greenville. The Postal Service has been under fire in recent weeks for mail slowdowns ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential race.
Absentee voting in Wisconsin is expected to hit a record this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 1.2 million Wisconsin voters have requested absentee ballots so far.
Wolfe said Wisconsin election officials have ways to track down ballots when they go missing but emphasized the importance of returning absentee ballots as soon as possible. It’s easier to fix problems that might arise when clerks have more time to respond to them, she said.
Also Thursday, Wolfe said Wisconsin’s ban on “electioneering” at polling sites applies to campaigning for candidates and issues. It doesn’t apply to general pushes to encourage people to vote, she said.
The issue has surfaced because the state Republican Party has warned Milwaukee officials that it believes athletes, the Bucks mascot Bango and the Brewers’ Racing Sausages cannot be present at Fiserv Forum and Miller Park when they are used as voting sites.
The presence of athletes and mascots would amount to a form of electioneering because it would encourage people to come out to vote, argued the party’s chairman, Andrew Hitt.
Wolfe didn’t see it that way, saying, “That would be allowable.”
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.