As absentee ballots become more crucial to U.S. elections throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin voters can now request absentee ballots for the upcoming 2021 elections.

According to the City Clerk’s website, these elections include the Feb. 16 primary election to elect non-partisan candidates and the April 6 general election to elect judicial, educational and municipal officers and non-partisan county officers.

Madison residents will vote for State Superintendent, a board member for the Middleton/Cross Plains area school district, Dane County Board Supervisor for District 12 and Alderpersons for Districts 9, 16 and 18.

According to Ballotpedia, the State Superintendent election will be a battleground election, making it especially competitive.

University of Wisconsin Young Progressives club member Avra Reddy said Madison voters have specific goals in mind when voting in the spring elections.

“I think Madison residents care a lot about public transportation, police defunding/reform, affordable housing and climate justice right now especially because so many politically active young people live in Madison,” Reddy said.

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Candidate for State Superintendent Jill Underly said voter fatigue will be a major problem in this upcoming election. With seven candidates and no incumbent, Madison voters will have difficulty discerning which candidate to support.

According to Underly, educational funding ranges widely between schools. Many teachers are underpaid and many schools offer inadequate daycare services. Underly also said there is a lack of funding for mental health services in rural schools.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, big cities have 6.9 child psychiatrists per 100,000 youth, while rural areas have 0.3 child psychiatrists per 100,000 youth. Hospitals are often miles away from rural areas, making mental health treatment more difficult.

According to candidate for State Superintendent Dr. Shandowlyon Hendricks, Wisconsin is one of the worst states for academic inequity between racial groups and she hopes absentee ballots will allow more voting from disenfranchised groups.

Absentee ballots will hopefully offer an opportunity for more people to vote,” Hendricks said.

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According to an article by PBS Wisconsin, Black people have reason to distrust this method even during a pandemic when absentee voting is a safer option than voting in person. Historically, BIPOC absentee ballots are rejected at a higher rate than those of white voters.

Hendricks also said this election cycle is distinct from previous years.

“We have Covid-19 as a backdrop, a racial reckoning across the United States, and rampant political polarization,” Hendricks said.

Reddy also pointed out the significance of the District 8 Alderperson election — a seat typically filled by a student.

“Two Black women students are running against each other,” Reddy said. “I think this is a historic moment for diversity on the council.”

According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Trump campaign sought to disqualify 238,420 ballots cast during the Nov. 3 election between Dane and Milwaukee counties.

Despite distrust in absentee ballots in the wake of the 2020 election, Wisconsin’s Chief Election Official Meagan Wolfe said voters can trust their votes were properly counted in the election.

In the last three presidential elections, Wisconsin had among the lowest rates of mail ballot rejections and other problems in the nation, according to the Elections Performance Index.

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According to Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl voters must be responsible for knowing important deadlines. If voters do not meet these deadlines, their ballots will not be counted.

“It is important each absentee voter returns their ballot in time for it to be counted at the polls on Election Day. The postmark does not matter,” Witzel-Behl said, “Ballots received after Election Day are not counted.” 

According to the City Clerk’s office website, the City of Madison set up secure drop boxes for residents to submit their ballots, which will be retrieved by sworn election officials. Voters can also send their ballots through mail or drop them off at the City Clerk’s office.

Witzel-Behl said her office is working to ensure safety and security in the election.

“The pandemic has been a challenge when it comes to elections, but we work to ensure that voters have safe options for casting their ballot,” Witzel-Behl said.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, this election will be challenging for incumbent council members due to COVID-19, policing, homelessness and other social issues relevant to today’s world.

A list of important election deadlines can be found at the MyVote Wisconsin website. Jan. 27 is the deadline to register to vote by mail and online. Feb. 12 is the deadline to register at a municipal clerk’s office and Feb. 16 (primary day) is the deadline to register at a polling location.