WILL Files WEC Complaint Over Village of Hartland’s Use of Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes

WILL asks state agency to make clear the state law provides only two legal options for casting absentee ballots

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) against the Village Clerk of Hartland, in Waukesha County, for violating state law by collecting absentee ballots from unstaffed, unsupervised drop boxes for the 2020 General Election. State law makes clear that there are just two legal ways to cast an absentee ballot in Wisconsin: through the U.S. mail or delivered in person to the municipal clerk.

WILL is asking WEC to direct the Village Clerk of Hartland to require that absentee ballots be cast in a manner prescribed by state law.

The Quote: WILL Deputy Counsel, Luke Berg, said, “State law is crystal clear that absentee ballots can be cast in two ways: by mail or delivered in person to the clerk. The expansive use of unstaffed absentee ballot drop boxes creates enormous legal uncertainty.”

Background: Absentee ballot drop boxes were used widely during Wisconsin elections in 2020. The Wisconsin Elections Commission issued memos to Wisconsin clerks in March and August of 2020 encouraging their use, stating that absentee ballots do not need to be mailed by the voter or delivered by the voter, in person, to the municipal clerk, but instead could be dropped into a drop box. According to these WEC policy statements, ballot drop boxes can be unstaffed, temporary, or permanent.

These statements of policy were contrary to state law. Voting is a constitutional right, but state law makes clear that, “voting by absentee ballot is a privilege exercised wholly outside the traditional safeguards of the polling place.” There are just two legal ways in Wisconsin to submit an absentee ballot. When voting by absentee ballot, state law says “[t]he envelope [containing the ballot] shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots.”

An unstaffed, unsupervised absentee ballot drop box does not meet either of these legal options. WILL filed a separate lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission in Waukesha County Circuit Court challenging WEC’s memos regarding drop boxes.

WILL’s complaint against the Village Clerk in the Village of Hartland asks the Wisconsin Elections Commission to make clear that state law provides just two legal options for collecting absentee ballots. The complaint asks WEC to direct the Village Clerk, going forward, to collect and count only those absentee ballots cast in a manner prescribed by state law.

WEC’s procedures allow for a response within 20 days or so, after which WEC will decide whether there is probable cause for the violation. If WEC rules against the complaint, WILL can then go to court.

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