Absentee ballot drop boxes can no longer be used in Wisconsin, a judge ruled on Thursday as the state prepares for spring and fall elections.
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren said that absentee ballots could not be returned through drop boxes, saying “there's no authority to do it,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. However, Bohren said that state law does allow for absentee ballots to be mailed back or handed in in-person.
That ruling follows a lawsuit that was filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) on behalf of two individuals in June. The lawsuit said that the Wisconsin Elections Commission had incorrectly interpreted election statues as to allow for drop boxes to be used for absentee ballots, saying that “only legally cast votes should count and counting illegally cast votes diminishes the value of those cast legally.”
The lawsuit also claimed that there were only two ways for absentee ballots to be dropped off — by hand or by mail, though the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s attorneys argued that the state law could be open to a wider interpretation of those rules, according to the Journal Sentinel.
A deputy counsel for WILL praised the judge’s decision.
“The guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission on absentee ballot drop boxes was unlawful. There are just two legal methods to cast an absentee ballot in Wisconsin: through the mail or in-person at a clerk’s office. And voters must return their own ballots,” WILL deputy counsel Luke Berg said in a statement. “We are pleased the court made this clear, providing Wisconsin voters with certainty for forthcoming elections.”
The news comes a month away before Wisconsin’s judicial primary, which is slated for Feb. 15. The Journal Sentinel noted that an appeal to Bohren's ruling will almost certainly be filed and would have bigger implications for the November midterms, which includes the state's gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.