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Focusing on fairness and integrity with the voting process in Tuesday’s elections

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - In the biggest and most divisive election to date, there is one bipartisan group that is focusing on making sure there's integrity and fairness in the voting process.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country saw a record number of absentee ballots which led to questions about the integrity of the voting process.

Because of this concern, a group reflecting different political sides created VoteSafe about five months ago. It is a "cross-partisan coalition of election administrators and organizations that endorse the simple principle that every American has the right to vote safely amidst the pandemic."

The coalition's mission is to ensure that voters have safe, credible, options when it comes to voting and they know what they are.

With Wisconsin being one of the biggest swing states in this election, J.B. Van Hollen, a former Attorney General for Wisconsin, explained that VoteSafe Wisconsin was created primarily for this reason after the national coalition was created.

They encouraged people to vote and educated them on how they can vote early or absentee. Van Hollen says that voter turnout is historically very low, less than 50% which is why they worked hard to get people to get out there.

"We thought with all the legal wrangling and political wrangling that goes on as well as the onset of COVID, there were a lot of people who were going to be uncertain of different ways they can vote or have their vote counted and they were also going to be a little bit worried about going to the polling places so we really wanted to educate people on different ways you could vote to make sure that they can if they want to," said Van Hollen.

He also explained how polling places took extra precautions to ensure everyone's safety when voting in person.

VoteSafe took to the media to educate people. They worked with popular channels that people watch to get their messages out there as well as some paying for TV commercials.

Van Hollen explained that the absentee ballot voting process does not favor one party and it is not a new concept; it was just used more in this election specifically.

"You have military members who are overseas. You have students who are off to college who can't come home on a Tuesday. You have elderly and disabled who can't get out of their home but they can certainly get their mail and return their mail," said Van Hollen. "There are people who wouldn't be able to vote without absentee balloting."

Although many weren't going to the polls this election and took advantage of the absentee ballot, Van Hollen says that the process is just as secure, if not more so.

"You still have to be registered online and you have to show photo IDs still but in some ways, it may be even more secure than in-person voting because of the fact that not only do you have to write your address down and sign the envelope on the ballot, but you have to have a witness signature and their address as well so there are a number of ways to follow up and check-up on fraud," explained Van Hollen.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission held a media briefing the day after the election to discuss the validity of the voting process as well. The state of Wisconsin's chief election official Meagan Wolfe took questions and addressed issues that were brought up.

She said that Wisconsin's counting and reporting of unofficial results went according to law. She explained the different levels all of the ballots go through and the double-checking process that occurs to ensure the validity of the count.

Wolfe encourages anyone who is unsure about the process of counting to watch for themselves.

"All of this is publicly observable. You can go watch in your local communities if you're skeptical about the process, engage," said Wolfe.

Election results will not be certified and declaring an official winner in Wisconsin until the elections meeting on December 1. The elections commission won't receive results information until next week so the numbers people see on TV are reports from the news. Although the commission says that these numbers are generally accurate, the official results won't be received for a week or so.

However, people can be sure that both the voting process and counting process has been done fairly.

"There's no opportunity to add additional votes to the tally because you have to make sure that everybody is registered to vote, that they have a lawful absentee request on file, that they signed the poll book where they show their photo ID. There is no opportunity to count a ballot that didn't go through that incredibly meticulous process to make sure it was issued correctly, to make sure that it was counted correctly, and then again it has to go through three steps of canvas at the municipal, county, and state level before we have certified results," said Wolfe.

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Rylie Kyhn

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