Superior’s City Council got behind a proposal to create a SafeVote Program in the City of Superior.
The goal of the program is to offer voters information on how they can cast their ballot safely for upcoming elections.Voters will decide legislative and local partisan races, as well as the U.S. presidency on Nov. 3.
“This legislation strives to assure security for the safety of our community, the sanctity of our elections and the stability of our health care facilities' capacity,” said Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who introduced the resolution directing city officials to come up with a plan. “It’s difficult to name a more important charge of local governments than protecting and promoting equal access to the ballot.”
Absentee voting was promoted by everyone from Gov. Tony Evers to local officials for the April 7 election, which was held in the midst of a pandemic and a safer-at-home order issued by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm. A record setting 1.2 million ballots were sent out statewide including 4,292 in Superior and another 2,680 throughout Douglas County. About 63% of the ballots cast in Superior were absentee.
With the May 12 special election next week, more than 100,000 absentee ballots had been requested throughout the 7th Congressional District as of May 6, the most recent numbers available, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Douglas County voters have requested nearly as many absentee ballots for the May 12 election as were cast April 7, WEC data showed.
The resolution does not call for any specific actions, but the council discussed several options for city officials to consider as they develop the plan.
Mayor Jim Paine said he would like the city to send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter who has not already requested an absentee ballot.
A few municipalities have gone down that road, said City Clerk Terri Kalan. However, people can receive an absentee ballot online through myvote.wi.gov or by contacting her office, she said. An application isn’t required.
Kalan recommended including information on absentee voting in a flyer mailed to every household with the city utility bill to keep costs down. She said her office would likely continue to promote absentee voting through outreach.
Councilor Craig Sutherland questioned the need for the resolution if Kalan would be promoting absentee voting anyway.
Councilor Brent Fennessey said he had concerns about the cost and nature of the outreach.
“We’re passing a resolution without knowing anything about it … we don’t know any of the details,” he said.
Councilors Jack Sweeney and Esther Dalbec said they supported the resolution.
“I applaud doing this; we should be on a mission to try to increase the voting as much as we can,” Sweeney said.
“I think we should go forward with this,” Dalbec said. “I think it’s a great motivation for people … who would rather vote absentee rather than going to the polls. It’s a great idea and I’m for it.”
Paine said his goal is to make Superior a leader in Wisconsin in its voter outreach efforts and he wants the Council's support before officials take further action.
“I will say this is a crisis. I will link this to COVID-19, the state of emergency. The elections changed underneath us … I believe we have the authority to do this. You heard the clerk say we’re probably going to do it. Personally, I believe we need the Council to be on board if we’re going to take on a new initiative," Paine said.
The measure was adopted by unanimous voice vote.