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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Wisconsin Elections Commission will accept incomplete absentee ballots, court orders

Dane County Circuit Judge Ryan Nilsestuen ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to accept absentee ballots with missing witness address information.

Dane County Circuit Judge Ryan Nilsestuen ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) on Jan. 30 to accept absentee ballots with missing witness address information.

In 2022, a judge from Waukesha County ruled clerks cannot correct address errors on absentee ballot certifications, according to PBS Wisconsin. Nilsestuen’s ruling allows a missing ZIP code, municipality or address marked as “same as voter” or “ditto” to be counted. 

In proposing to strike down the previous decision, it is likely that Wisconsin will see an increase in ballots cast in the upcoming election, which has the potential to shift the vote in favor of the Democratic candidate, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

The issue of witness information has been debated in the state for years. A unanimous 2016 Wisconsin Elections Commission ruling approved guidance on witness addresses, specifying that addresses should “contain at a minimum, a street number, street name and municipality for the certificate to be considered sufficient,” according to WPR.

As a result, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill which outlined that an incomplete absentee ballot cannot be counted by a clerk. Republicans argued the bill was necessary to ensure adequate information was confirmed, 

A staffer for Rep. Jerry O’Connor, R-Fond Du Lac, told The Daily Cardinal in an email statement that local clerks should not determine what information should be filled out on a witness form.  

“Representative O’Connor contends it is the intent of the Legislature and simply a time-proven activity that a witness should fully provide the information and complete the form required of a witness,” the statement read. “It is not the role of the local clerks to determine what information could or should be filled in on a witness form.”

Two Wisconsin circuit courts hold opposing rulings on this issue, making it possible this issue appears before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to CBS News.

The court holds the first 4-3 liberal majority in 15 years following the inauguration of Justice Janet Protasiewicz in August. 

Absentee ballots have been a hotbed topic in the court. In 2022, the formerly conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court barred absentee ballot drop boxes following criticism from former President Donald Trump on the validity of Wisconsin ballots in the 2020 election.

A liberal law firm is currently challenging these rules, according to PBS Wisconsin.

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