Wisconsin voters have to place their own absentee ballots in the mail, the state’s chief election administrator said.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe’s comments Thursday were made just five days after the state Supreme Court ruled absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal and could have major implications for people with disabilities.
The justices ruled that only the voter can return an absentee ballot to local clerks in person. But the court did not clarify who can place absentee ballots in the mail.
Wisconsin law mandates that voters must be the ones to place their ballots in the mail. Federal law, however, allows non-voters to place ballots belonging to anyone who is disabled in the mail.
The politically-divided elections commission could not come to an agreement during a meeting Tuesday on what guidance to issue to clerks.
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When asked about it during a news conference Thursday, Wolfe told reporters voters should talk to their local election officials but “as of right now the voter is the one required to mail their ballot.”
Wolfe added that she’s worried people will be confused since Aug. 9 primary elections are so close.
“There is certainly always confusion whenever there is a change right before an election or in this case in the middle of an active election cycle,” Wolfe said. “But it’s not appropriate for me to opine anything in the court’s ruling.”
Following the media availability, Wolfe’s office issued a clarification saying her comments “should not be interpreted as a policy statement.” The office again said voters should rely on municipal clerks to interpret the law in administering the absentee by mail process in their communities.
Barbara Beckert, director of the Milwaukee office of Disability Rights Wisconsin, said federal law protects the right of people with disabilities to have assistance mailing their ballot and also to have a person of their choice deliver their ballot to their clerk or polling place.
“(The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling) did not limit or alter federal laws that protect the rights of voters with disabilities, such as the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Beckert said. “If a voter with a disability needs someone else to mail their ballot, they should feel comfortable doing so.”
Also on Thursday, Republican legislative leaders signaled they would eliminate a rule set by the Wisconsin Elections Commission that allows clerks to fill in missing information in the addresses of witnesses signing absentee ballot envelopes.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August sent a letter Thursday to the leaders of a legislative committee that oversees rules agencies seek to implement.
The rule codifies guidance issued by the elections commission in 2016.
It would “define what constitutes a complete address, mandate that clerks take corrective measures to try and remedy address insufficiencies, detail what clerks are lawfully able to self-correct, outline how clerks should perform outreach to voters and witnesses, allow for the return of the certificate for correction, and specify when voters or witnesses must appear to correct the certificate in person,” according to the commission’s scope statement of what the rule outlines.
Lawmakers said because the commission does not cite statutory authority to cover such areas of election administration, the rule should be eliminated by the Legislature’s rules committee.
If the committee agrees, how such issues are handled could be up to individual clerks.
Molly Beck of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.