Like many states, Wisconsin is expecting a major shift toward mail-in voting this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also a key state that could decide whether President Trump gets another term.
But many voters there and around the country have never voted by mail before. Democrats are going all out to explain to voters how to properly cast their mail-in ballots, including with a little star power.
Parks and Recreation was a beloved sitcom about local government and small “d” democracy. And in that spirit, cast members got together last week to give Wisconsin voters a virtual education about voting on behalf of the state’s Democratic party. Two of the show’s main actors, Aubrey Plaza and Adam Scott, were the “elections experts.”
“In a few moments, we are gonna bring out everyone from our cast to discuss what fans of the show are all dying to hear about: in-depth, minute details of Wisconsin absentee voting information, right?,” Plaza queries.
“That’s right,” says Scott.
Plaza and Scott ticked through the ways people can mess up when absentee voting – like uploading a selfie instead of a photo ID to request a ballot.
“And guess what a selfie is not a valid form of photo ID for the purposes of this voting. OK?” says Plaza.
“It’s really not. It’s also not legal tender, you can’t do anything,” Scott says. “It’s basically useless except to just show your friends.”
Or sealing and then trying to reopen your ballot.
“If if the ballot looks like it has been opened and then resealed it’s got to be rejected, OK, because there’s no way to know what your ballot has been tampered with. Come on,” says Plaza indignantly.
Getting mail ballots right is a big issue. More than 23,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in Wisconsin in April – slightly more than Trump’s margin of victory here in 2016.
Amy Poehler, who plays the show’s protagonist Leslie Knope, had a creative way to remind voters they need to get their ballots witnessed.
“I’m excited about all of us being each other’s witness. That’s gonna be fun. And I think that’s gonna be a big ask. I think, and I don’t want to, like, try to create a meet-cute, but I bet there’ll be some people that get married after being each others’ witnesses for these absentee ballots,” says Poehler.
Tens of thousands of people tuned in to the event, which also doubled as a fundraiser.
While it was a new way to educate voters here in this closely divided state, the advice is consistent with what Democrats have been telling voters ever since last month’s convention.
“Make a plan to vote, make a backup plan to vote, and then make a third plan on how you’re gonna vote,” says Chelsea Cross, campaign manager for Tom Palzewicz, a Wisconsin Democrat running for U.S. Congress in a strongly-Republican district.
She says voters should treat Oct. 20 as Election Day this year, not Nov. 3, so they have plenty of time.
“We don’t want them to get a mail-in ballot, fill it out, have it be wrong and have that vote not be counted,” says Cross.
All of this comes as President Trump has repeatedly made false claims about the security of voting by mail and cuts to the postal service have raised voters’ concerns about how to safely cast their ballots.
Election officials worry that with everything about voting becoming so polarized this year, voters may not always get accurate information. Meagan Wolfe is Wisconsin’s top election official.
“There’s oftentimes a lot of well-meaning groups that are trying to provide information to voters, but they might not quite get some of the details right. And so we really encourage people to take a look at the information that we have available for voter outreach and utilize some of that messaging if you’re doing outreach of your own,” says Wolfe.
Democrats emphasize that they’re relying on the election commission’s information. As state party chair Ben Wikler says, the aim of all this voter education is a quick, decisive win.
“The bigger the margin of victory in November, the less risk there is that any aspect of the mechanics of voting could sway the election one way or the other,” says Wikler.
Democrats say they would rather get their win from the ballot box than the courtroom.