A County Judge ruled Thursday that drop boxes could not be used to collect absentee ballots under Wisconsin law.
The use of the boxes, as described in guidance issued by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, “is not permitted under Wisconsin law,” Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren said in his ruling.
Bohren agreed with the plaintiff attorney’s argument that state law only allows two ways for absentee ballots to be returned: by mail or in-person at the local clerk’s office.
When returned in person, only the person who cast the vote may do that, Bohren said.
Under this order, “ballot harvesting” or events such as “Democracy in the Park,” in which election officials collected absentee ballots at more than 200 city parks in 2020, would be prohibited.
The commission issued the guidance in March (pdf) and August (pdf) 2020 to allow election clerks to put out drop boxes, adding “a family member or another person may also return the ballot on behalf of the voter.”
The ruling will almost certainly be appealed. If it stands, it will affect the spring primary election scheduled on Feb. 15 for state offices such as the court of appeals judges and circuit court judges. The spring general is on April 5.
Riley Vetterkind, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, told The Epoch Times via email that staff and commissioners “plan to review the court’s order and consult with legal counsel in the coming days.”
When asked how many drop boxes were used during the 2020 election, Vetterkind said the commission didn’t keep the statistics.
Republicans and conservatives have been pushing against the ballot drop boxes since the 2020 election, citing fraud concerns.
Meanwhile, Democrats and the left claim the drop boxes are important to ensure more voter turnout, especially during the pandemic, and Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
The Republican-led state legislature passed bills last year to restrict ballot drop boxes, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the proposals.
During the hearing, Luke Berg, deputy counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which is representing the plaintiffs, said that by the logic of Elections Commission’s guidance, “a shoebox in the park would be legal for accepting ballots.”
The Elections Commission’s attorney Steven Kilpatrick called the assertion a ridiculous argument.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.