Wisconsin official: Voters must mail own absentee ballots
The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s administrator says voters must place their own absentee ballots in the mail in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision last week
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s chief election administrator said Thursday that Wisconsin voters must place their own absentee ballots in the mail and can’t have someone do it for them, adding to confusion over whether elderly and disabled people would be breaking the law if they receive help.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe's remarks came after the state Supreme Court issued a decision Friday outlawing absentee ballot drop boxes. The justices ruled that only the voter can return an absentee ballot to local clerks in person.
The court didn't clarify who can place absentee ballots in the mail, however. Wisconsin law mandates that voters must place their ballots in the mail. Federal law, however, allows non-voters to place disabled people's ballots in the mail.
The Elections Commission, which is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, couldn't agree during a meeting Tuesday on what guidance to issue to clerks.
Wolfe was asked during a question-and-answer session with reporters Thursday what she would tell voters to reduce confusion. Wolfe said voters should ask their local clerks for guidance but added that “right now, the voter is the one required to mail the ballot.”
She said election officials are worried about voter confusion but that it wouldn't be “appropriate” for her to express any further thoughts beyond what the state Supreme Court said.
Barbara Beckert, director of external policy for Disability Rights Wisconsin, stressed that federal law protects the right of disabled people to get help mailing their ballot and to have a person of their choice deliver it to their clerk or polling place and the state Supreme Court ruling didn’t change that.
“If a voter with a disability needs someone else to mail their ballot, they should feel comfortable doing so,” Beckert said.
Elections Commission spokesman Riley Vetterkind said later Thursday that Wolfe wasn’t making a policy statement but was simply explaining what state law says.
Republicans have claimed that others mailing absentee ballots on voters' behalf, a practice known as ballot harvesting, is rife with fraud, although there has been no evidence of that in Wisconsin.
Separately Thursday, Republican lawmakers asked the Legislature's rules committee to kill the commission's attempt to allow clerks to fill in missing information on absentee ballot envelopes.
The commission issued guidance in 2016 allowing clerks to correct witness address omissions and mistakes on absentee ballot envelopes without contacting the witness or voter.
The GOP took aim at the guidance after Joe Biden won the state in 2020, demanding the commission develop emergency rules codifying the guidance. The commission voted in January to draft the guidance as an emergency rule.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August sent a letter to the rules committee chairmen on Thursday saying the the rule is done and the committee needs to kill it.
They wrote that under state law if an envelope is missing a witness address it doesn't count. LeMahieu said in a statement that the rules committee's Senate co-chairman, Steve Naas, has agreed to convene the panel next week.
“We’ve seen what election officials have done when given an inch of latitude when administering election laws,” LeMahieu said. “No more.”
LeMahieu, Vos and August all face primary opponents who have complained that the GOP hasn't done enough to shore up election security since Biden's victory.
Vetterkind, the commission's spokesman, didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
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