A Wisconsin county judge Thursday granted an injunction against the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in statewide elections.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) issued guidance to county clerks about the use of drop boxes in March and again in August of 2020, in light of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance permitted, but did not require, county clerks to establish drop boxes for the collection of absentee ballots.
In June 2021, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Wisconsin residents, challenging the legal status of the drop boxes.
The lawsuit contended that state law is clear on the issue of absentee ballots, and that they must be either mailed to the county clerk’s office or delivered in person. The lawsuit contended that an unsupervised drop box met neither of these conditions. Plaintiffs asked for a declaration to be issued that absentee ballots can only be delivered by mail or directly to the county clerk, as well as for a permanent injunction preventing WEC from instituting any guidance or policy about absentee ballot drop boxes.
Judge Michael Bohren agreed with the plaintiffs, finding no explicit authorization for drop boxes in the statute governing absentee ballots. The judge said that WEC’s guidance to clerks represented a major policy decision that should have been issued as an administrative rule rather than simple guidance. An administrative rule would require the approval of the Wisconsin legislature.
The judge’s ruling is likely to be appealed. WEC has said that they planned to review the court’s order.