The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted on Wednesday to remove previous guidance to local clerks allowing ballot boxes and people other than the voter to deliver mail-in ballots.
The Election Commission’s unanimous vote is in line with a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling Friday that freestanding mailbox-like drop boxes would no longer be allowed outside a local clerk’s office after the Tuesday’s spring primary. The state high court is expected to issue a final ruling on the legality of the boxes in the near future.
A central point of the case stems from guidelines issued by the commission in early 2020 to allow election clerks to use their discretion in determining whether to use drop boxes. With Wednesday’s vote, those guidelines and all references to them will be removed from the agency’s website and a letter clarifying the changes will be sent to local election officials.
“It’s up to the clerks to figure out what that means, because there won’t be any more guidelines,” said Ann Jacobs, Democratic chair of the commission.
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Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ruled the boxes were not permitted under state law, a decision that was later temporarily stayed by the District 4 Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled to allow drop boxes in the Feb. 15 primary to avoid confusion among voters who had already requested ballots.
The state Supreme Court issued a 4-3 ruling last week denying a request by the commission and various groups seeking to extend the stay until the April 5 election in the spring.
“The Supreme Court has put us in a very difficult position by removing a proven method of safe and secure voting, but of course we will not compromise votes by using drop boxes at this time,” said the Mayor of Madison , Satya Rhodes-Conway. “We hope common sense will prevail.”
Madison’s 14 drop boxes will remain in place for the time being.
The ongoing battle over the use of drop boxes has persisted since the 2020 election, in part due to baseless allegations of voter fraud by former President Donald Trump, who lost Wisconsin to President Joe Biden by about 21,000 votes.
Hundreds of city workers used the boxes that year when there was still no vaccine for COVID-19 and public health officials warned against large gatherings, such as in the polling stations. At the same time, the large number of mail-in ballots requested that year, combined with U.S. Postal Service cutbacks, led many to fear that their ballots would not return in time if mailed.
The Election Commission voted in early December to begin the long process of developing administrative rules for drop boxes. Once submitted as rules, the Rules Committee of the Legislative Assembly can vote to eliminate the policies. In addition, the committee last month failed to reach a consensus on Republicans’ demand for emergency ballot box rules, in part because of the ongoing case.
The 2020 election results were confirmed by county canvassing commissions, recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties, post-election audits by local and state election officials, and an audit of voting materials by the electoral commission. A review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Office found ways to improve the elections, but no evidence of widespread fraud. Several court decisions have also found no evidence of irregularities.
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