A judge ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes were no longer used in Wisconsin


MADISON – A Waukesha County judge ruled Thursday that absentee ballot drop boxes cannot be used in Wisconsin, which increases the elements of the spring elections and the high-profile contests for the governor and the US Senate.

After three hours of arguments, state law allows Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Boehren to return absent ballots in person or by mail – but not in the ballot drop box.

“It’s all good and good, but there’s no power to do that,” Bohren said of the use of drop boxes.

He said he would finalize an injunction ordering the state election commission to withdraw long-standing advice from municipal clerks across the state who say they can use absentee ballot boxes.

Dropboxes have long been available in some Wisconsin communities, but their use expanded to 2020 when absentee ballots erupted due to a coronavirus epidemic. According to a database compiled by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, more than 500 of them were available during the presidential election.

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Boehren’s decision to withhold the use of drop boxes – if it retains any particular appeal – will affect how ballots can be returned in next month’s low ballot primary for the spring elections. This will have far-reaching consequences when more people vote in the fall.

Thursday’s verdict comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Richard Teigen of Heartland and Richard Thom of Menomonee Falls in June. He is represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Law Institute lawyer Luke Berg argued that ballot drop boxes cannot be used because state law limits how ballots can be returned.

Advocates for the State Election Commission and others disagreed, saying state law is not strict on how ballots can be returned, as the Institute maintains. Boren did not accept that view.

Bohren’s verdict prevents voters from returning their absentee ballots. This means that political groups cannot cast ballots for voters – which is not widely used in Wisconsin.

Their decision will prevent voters from returning their ballots to their spouses and neighbors.

The decision could prevent programs such as “Democracy in the Park”, which allows voters to showcase Madison in 2020 to return absentee ballots to park workers.

Many ballet drop boxes in Wisconsin are tamper proof, under 24-hour camera surveillance, and at fire stations, libraries, or other government offices. Those drop boxes are no longer used, but voters are still able to cast ballots in less safe blue mailboxes on street corners across the state.

The lawsuit is part of an organized push by Republicans and conservatives against drop boxes.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is involved in another legal challenge, and former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleifish recently brought her own lawsuit.

Clearfish, who is seeking a Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Governor Tony Evers, has asked the state Supreme Court to take her case straight. The justices have not said if they will take it.

Meanwhile, Republicans controlling the state legislature are trying to restrict the use of drop boxes separately and urge the Election Commission to adopt formal rules on the issue within the next month. If the commission does so, lawmakers can quickly restrict the rules.

There may be less focus on that effort after Bohren ruled.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Patrickdmarley.



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