On the presidential level, having an undeclared winner as Americans fall asleep in front of their TVs on election night, awaking Wednesday morning to confusion and uncertainty, has fostered chaos and a slow, cancer-like erosion of public trust in our elections. We understand that above all else, ballots must be counted accurately. But that doesn’t mean county clerks cannot take proactive steps to ensure we at least have a strong inkling as to who our next president is going to be.

As a former municipal clerk, I can attest to the advantage of having early processing of absentee ballots prior to Election Day.

The eyes of an anxious nation will be looking at Wisconsin on the night of Nov. 5. It’s a delegate-rich swing-state that has voted for a Republican and then a Democrat at the top of the ticket the last two presidential elections, and home to a closely watched Senate race and two  competitive House races. Wisconsin would do itself—and the country at large—a service by getting results out on Election Night accurately and quickly.

However, Republicans, who hold the majority on the state’s Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection, are stonewalling efforts to require elections officials to count absentee ballots the Monday before the election.

Many people do not realize that elections, while essential, are not the only duties of municipal clerks. Clerks have multiple essential functions which they perform throughout the year, in addition to elections. And for many, keeping up with new laws and guidance can be overwhelming. Having additional days prior to Election Day, even if it is just one day as proposed in this bill, provides municipal clerks the ability to focus on thoughtfully reviewing absentee ballot returns, verifying voters’ eligibility, and processing returned ballots. Without early processing days, clerks are forced to process absentee ballots during the chaos on Election Day while voters are voting in-person, last minute absentee ballots are being returned, and observers are attempting to track all the activities going on.

When I recruited, trained, and placed observers at polling locations on Election Day, I also worked with seasoned election professionals to develop a training program for observers to take part in the early processing of absentee ballots. I participated in the observation of early processing of absentee ballots at our state’s capital, during the 2022 General Election.

I was able to collaborate with the municipal clerk and her team during processing. Our teams of observers had the ability to review returned envelopes prior to them being opened and look for discrepancies. We found a few discrepancies which were addressed immediately, and the resolutions were discussed in front of our volunteer team. The whole process was very transparent and gave the volunteer observers the ability to get to know the election workers and ultimately have a better appreciation of all the work that they had ahead of them.

Fears that Democrat clerks will be huddled in a dark room, tossing ballots that aren’t to their liking are valid fears. Bipartisan observation is required for all processing taking place before and on Election Day. Not allowing for such retroactive measures guarantees that we will see more backroom, observerless, 3 a.m.  ballot dumps that, as we know, far too often end up tipping the scales in one direction.

Americans deserve to know who their next senator or president is going to be in a timely and accurate manner. Simply hoping that the nightmare of 2020 doesn’t happen again isn’t going to cut it. Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature need to pass early ballot processing and restore election efficiency and transparency to a state that very well may be the key to the White House.