By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In Wisconsin, voters have multiple ways to cast their votes. They can go in person on Election Day, or they can vote absentee by mail or in person at early voting sites. In some parts of the state, the City of Milwaukee included, individuals also had the option of putting their absentee ballots in a city sanctioned drop box – but as of Thursday, that’s no longer an option.
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren ruled that under Wisconsin law, absentee ballot drop boxes cannot be used in an election. Instead, voters can return their absentee ballots in person or by mail.
Drop boxes came into the spotlight during the 2020 elections. Many voters turned to absentee voting as a safety precaution. At the time, the COVID-19 pandemic had only just begun and potential exposure at in person voting sites was a high possibility.
The drop boxes in the City of Milwaukee were located throughout the city at places such as local library branches or government offices. When the drop boxes were announced, the city’s Election Commission noted that the boxes were under 24/7 surveillance and their contents were regularly picked up and taken to a secure location to await Election Day.
During his ruling, Bohren ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to rescind its previously stated advice on drop boxes, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. He argued that the commission had overstepped its authority.
The commission was represented by Assistant Attorney General Steven Kilpatrick. He argued that the commission did not order local clerks to do anything, but instead offered guidance or advice on how to handle the election, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Wisconsin Public Radio further reported that Bohren’s ruling sides with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which had filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Luke Berg, an attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said the lack of laws regarding drop boxes means there are no requirements for how the drop box looks, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Bohren intends to finalize this order in 10 days, in which that time, the Wisconsin Elections Commission will be required to withdraw their advice on drop boxes.
An appeal regarding this ruling is anticipated to take place.
The next election to take place is the spring primary on Tuesday, Feb. 15 followed by the spring election on Tuesday, April 5. To find a polling place, register to vote or request an absentee ballot, go to myvote.wi.gov.