The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) has yet to release new guidance on how to handle absentee ballots for the Aug. 9 primary election after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that ballot drop boxes are illegal.
Republicans and Democrats on the commission repeatedly hit an impasse on July 12, when it came to deciding the meaning of the court’s July 8 ruling and how it should be interpreted and handled by more than 1,800 municipal clerks ahead of the primary.
The court ruled 4–3 that drop boxes that enable people to drop off ballots cast by themselves and others are illegal under state law and voters must return their ballots in person.
“We hold the documents are invalid because ballot drop boxes are illegal under Wisconsin statutes,” Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in the majority opinion on July 8. “An absentee ballot must be returned by mail or the voter must personally deliver it to the municipal clerk at the clerk’s office or a designated alternate site.”
The court didn’t address the question of who can put an absentee ballot in the mail.
While state law says an absentee ballot “shall be mailed by the elector,” federal law allows for disabled people to receive assistance with their ballot, meaning the Supreme Court’s decision could make it more difficult for the disabled, as well as the elderly, to vote.
At the commission meeting on July 13, Republicans said the panel should provide guidance to clerks running the elections to help them better understand the ruling, while Democrats argued that it’s unclear what the commission can tell clerks, saying that the proposed guidance went too far and could potentially confuse clerks and spark a slew of lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Bob Spindell offered a proposal that would require voters to present identification when returning a ballot to a clerk’s office, calling it a “security measure” that would ensure only the voter can return a completed ballot, in line with the court’s decision.
“It’s inherent in something like this that we have the person who is actually doing that to show an ID to show in fact it is his or her [ballot],” he said. “Otherwise, you have the problem of it could be anyone’s.”
That motion was ultimately rejected by WEC.
The commission also rejected another motion to issue guidance stating that the voter must be the one to mail a ballot.
“It would be inappropriate for us to start making stuff up and I think that’s what this memo does, unfortunately,” Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomsen said of proposed guidance written by commission staff.
“I think the fact that we’ve looked at the Supreme Court decision today and that we still need to digest some of it means that there will be guidance at some point in time, but at this moment in time, we’re not ready to give guidance,” said commission member Marge Bostelmann.
The WEC is scheduled to meet again on July 22.
Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.