District clerks react to state Supreme Court ruling on ballot box

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Area clerks were unsurprised and unprepared when the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled, 4-3, that voters will not be allowed to use ballot boxes for the next elections.

Drop boxes have been a political point of contention in the state during recent elections. The voting method became popular during the pandemic when voters were reluctant to enter buildings. As a result, municipalities have seen a huge increase in mail-in ballots dropped off at ballot boxes.

Most clerks saw the writing on the wall, although they said they were ready for any outcome the court delivered, especially as the decision came four weeks before the election and primaries of August 9. After running a similar election in April, clerks moved quickly by posting signs and alerting voters to the changes.

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“It was not an unexpected decision,” said Jennifer Moore, the village clerk of Sussex. “We had everything in place to follow the decision and we were proactive with signage and instructions to our absent voters. We are very open with them about how to make sure they know how to return their absentee ballot.

Municipalities that use drop boxes, indoors or outdoors, whether previously for ballots or for other things like paying utility bills, have already posted signs advising voters of the decision and not put their ballots there.

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Instead, the ruling now requires mail-in ballots to be returned in person to the appropriate drop-off location during municipal business hours or mailed following the instructions provided with the ballot. Also, spouses cannot return absentee ballots in person for each other. Wisconsin voters with significant physical disabilities can have a friend or family member drop off their absentee ballot in a mailbox for them.

“The only problem we have is that the person who filled out the ballot has to return it, and when you have married couples and families, it makes it more difficult for their husbands, wives or children because they can’t give it back to anyone else,” said Delafield City Clerk Dan Green. “But at the same time, in the times we live in, I understand why precaution is used.”

Other municipalities are hearing voter frustration with this policy.

“Berlin’s new voters are very good at keeping up to date with election laws, and there were only a handful of voters who expressed frustration with the decision at the ballot box,” said Rubina Medina, City Clerk of New Berlin. “While they were happy to bring their ballot to our office, they were confused as to why they couldn’t return their spouse’s ballot. I certainly sympathize with all of our voters, but my job is not to debate one way or another.”

While the clerks agreed that all elections would be administered within the statutory guidelines in place, some expressed concerns about the decision.

“I think anyone who works in election administration probably has concerns about the decision,” said Oak Creek City Clerk Catherine Roeske. “We see this as a blow to the franchise of Wisconsin voters. This could eventually disenfranchise voters statewide, including the city of Oak Creek. … This is certainly not sensible election legislation. The convenience of secure drop boxes is something they have really taken away from our constituents. »

What the clerks want you to know

The decision hasn’t changed much since the April elections. with the exception of returning a ballot for a significant other. However, area clerks still want to make sure everyone who votes is counted.

“My job is to make sure that I administer a safe and secure election within the statutory guidelines provided to me and to make sure that everyone’s vote will be counted as they should be,” Roeske said. “I hope our constituents have no doubts or question their city clerk as we administer the elections here.”

The clerks have many processes in place that take into account the correction of potential errors in the voting process. For example, drop boxes still stand outside or inside many municipal buildings. Signs are posted to dissuade people from dropping off their ballots there, but if they do, clerks can contact that person to remedy the situation, which must be done before the polls close on the day of the ballot.

Municipalities like Sussex had no case for the April election, but they still have procedures in place.

“If you’re voting by mail, it’s a good idea to request your ballot early and return it early,” Moore said. “That way, if there are any mistakes, you have time to rectify them so your vote counts.”

The clerks also mentioned that they pay particular attention to the instructions for voting by mail, in particular with regard to the signature and the address of the witness.

“Pay attention to the certification envelope and be careful when filling it out,” Green said.

If you have a question about voting, contact your local clerk for advice.

“My ultimate goal is for every voter to be able to vote and for that ballot to be counted,” Medina said. “If voters have questions, it’s important that they contact their city clerk so they can get the answers they need to vote successfully.”

Drew Dawson can be reached at [email protected] or 262-289-1324.

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