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Sunday, March 03, 2024
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Absentee ballots handled inconsistently in Wisconsin’s April 5 election

Following a state Supreme Court order to block the re-examination of ballots, clerks ran the election differently than in the past.

In the face of one-time restrictions adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, clerks ran last week's election radically differently from one municipality to the next.

The court unanimously ruled that the Racine school referendum did not have the right to have votes re-examined in court after they had previously been scrutinized during a recount. Because of the different methodologies following the ruling, voters in some areas were unable to cast absentee ballots. Voters were able to do so in other places.

New controversies arose as a result of the circumstances. When critics stated voters didn't have to produce IDs, clerks in some communities told them they did. A state senator has filed a complaint with Racine election officials about the city's rules. At least one disabled person claimed he was unable to vote.

As officials determine the rules for elections this fall and beyond, the justices will have to grapple with such challenges. Justices will hear arguments on Wednesday, and a final decision is due by the end of June.

In February, the Wisconsin Supreme Court allowed a Waukesha County judge's decision to take effect for the April 5 election. The state Elections Commission was forced to remove guidelines telling clerks they may utilize unstaffed ballot drop boxes and allow voters to put in absentee ballots for others as a result of the verdict.

Without any instruction, the state's more than 1,800 election clerks were left to figure out what the requirements were on their own. 

"The courts have put clerks in an untenable and terrible position because there is so little clarity about what the law is and what is expected of them," Jeffrey Mandell, an attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, said.

The complaint against the voting rules was filed by Luke Berg of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and he claimed that questions that have lately surfaced will be answered soon.

"This will be resolved as soon as the Supreme Court issues its decision, which is going to happen this summer," Berg said. "Inconsistency you might have seen between the clerks will hopefully be a one-time thing and will go away as soon as we have a final decision from the Supreme Court on these issues."

The case was filed on behalf of two suburban Milwaukee men by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty last year, in a dispute over voting regulations.

In January, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ruled in their favor, ordering the state commission to rescind the 2020 recommendation it issued. He discovered that state law prohibited the use of unmanned ballot drop boxes and prohibited voters from entrusting their completed absentee ballots to someone else to return.

Disabled voters claimed that some local officials' interpretations of the initial judgment kept them from voting. They pointed out that those who are disabled or have other infirmities are unable to mail or hand in their absentee ballots. Inmates were also unable to physically cast their ballots.

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The fundamental issue is expected to be resolved this summer.

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