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Wisconsin: What to do to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

Stop me if you've heard this one before: This election is an important one. That means it's important that you've got a plan for getting to the polls. That's especially true because we'll be voting in the middle of a pandemic. 

Election Day is coming on November 3. There are important races at the federal, state, and local levels, so it's worth your time to get primed on your voting options so you can do it safely. Here's everything you need to know about making sure your voice counts in the 2020 general election.

What's the deadline to register to vote in Wisconsin?

There are a few different deadlines to be aware of in Wisconsin. If you're registering online, it must be done 20 days before the election. By mail, your registration application must be postmarked by the third Wednesday before Election Day. Both of those are October 14 this year. In-person, you can register all the way up to the Friday before Election Day, which is October 30.  

Alternatively, you are also able to register in-person at your polling place on Election Day, but that could mean having to spend more time there.

How to register to vote in Wisconsin

You can register to vote online at MyVote.wi.gov. However, you need a valid Wisconsin driver's license or Wisconsin state ID card to register online. Your name, birthdate, and address will have to match what is on file with the Wisconsin DMV or you will have to register to vote "by printing, signing, and mailing your registration form along with proof of residence to your municipal clerk." You can also do that if you prefer to register by mail.

When registering online, you'll be asked the following questions. 

1. Are you a US citizen?

2. Will you be 18 years-old on or before Election Day?

3. Do you have a Wisconsin driver license or Wisconsin state ID card?

4. "Will you have resided at your current residential address for at least 28 consecutive days prior to the next election, with no present intent to move?"

5. "Are you currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction, including probation, parole, or supervision?"

6. Are you otherwise disqualified from voting?

If you want to register at your polling place on Election Day, be sure you bring a registration form, ID, and proof of residence.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Wisconsin?

Yes, but it's limited to absentee voting. You can request a mail-in absentee ballot or you can vote absentee at your local municipal clerk's office. If you take the latter option, you will vote there and return it to a member of the clerk's staff. You will not be able to take the ballot out of the clerk's office.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission says that "each city, village, and town in Wisconsin is responsible for setting the dates and hours" for in-person absentee voting in their area. However, in-person absentee voting cannot take place more than two weeks prior to the election. It must end two days before the election. To find dates and hours for in-person absentee voting, you can contact your municipal clerk.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes. Wisconsin allows voters to vote absentee by mail and does not require an excuse like being out of town for you to make the request. So, if you're worried about potential exposure to COVID-19 at your local polling place, you can request an absentee ballot and vote from the safety of your kitchen table.

How to request an absentee ballot in Wisconsin

You can download and submit this form. You'll need to return it to your municipal clerk's office. Your request for an absentee ballot must be received (not postmarked, but received) by 5pm on the Thursday prior to the election, per the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Of course, returning it right before the deadline will be cutting it close and might not leave you with enough time to receive your absentee ballot, fill it out, and return it before the Election Day cutoff.

Alternatively, you can submit your request for an absentee ballot online. For either option, if you have not requested an absentee ballot in-state during a previous election cycle, you will need to provide a valid ID.

How to vote absentee in Wisconsin

You'll find instructions on how to fill out your absentee ballot at the Wisconsin Elections Commission website. 

Your ballot will need to be "delivered no later than 8pm on Election Day." The US Postal Service says you should get that in the mail at least one week before the election to ensure timely arrival.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

There are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters -- all of which are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and others.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them. This is where hand sanitizer comes in handy. Use it after you touch the voting equipment or any other equipment at your precinct. If you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried before casting your ballot or touching any of the equipment present.
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't at its busiest. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is or making a plan to vote early in the dat.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. Knowing who you plan on voting for in each race will save you time inside the polling station.

It all boils down to using your common sense. 

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.