WI Supreme Court decision on absentee ballots creates confusion and concern for voters
A tarp is strapped down to the ballot drop box outside Rhinelander City Hall to prevent people from slipping their ballots inside.
It’s been like that since before the April election.
Newer are the signs on the doors to city hall that read “due to a pending Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, voters are legally only permitted to return their personal absentee ballot.”
While that case has now been decided, the rule still stands.
Rhinelander City Clerk Austyn Zarda says it’s lead to some frustrated voters coming into his office.
There’s also some slight frustration on his end as there’s been no guidance issued by the Wisconsin Elections Commission to clerks in response to the State Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I’m really playing things on the safe side, especially when it comes to election stuff now a days. Play stuff as close to the chest as you can. We’re pretty much following what the Supreme Court laid out,” said Zarda.
That means no more drop boxes and only allowing the person whose name is on the ballot to return it in person. Mailing your absentee ballot back is also still an option.
The Supreme Court decision is concerning to aging and disability rights advocates who says it creates even more challenges to a group of people who were already facing barriers to voting.
Janet Zander is an advocacy and public policy coordinator for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources which is a member the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition.
She says drop boxes or having someone return their ballot to the clerk’s way was a safe way for people with disabilities to make sure their votes are counted without having to worry about mailing deadlines or their ballot getting stuck in a mailbag.
She’s working to remind voters with disabilities they are still protect under federal law.
“Our recommendation is that that voter with a disability should contact their local clerk in advance of showing up to return it and ask for a disability accommodation,” said Zander.
This allows someone to return a ballot for them.
If they’re still having issues, Zander says call the Disability Rights Wisconsin Voter Hotline at 844-347-8683.
While the Supreme Court says no one else can return your absentee ballot to the clerk’s office, it didn’t address whether you could put someone else’s ballot in the mailbox.
“If they’re a voter with a disability and they need somebody to put their ballot in the mail for them, they should just do so and know they have those protections under those two federal laws,” said Zander.
The US Postal Service recommends putting your ballot in the mail at least a week before the election to ensure it’s delivered on time.
The primary is August 9th.
Zarda and other clerks are available to answer any questions people have and walk you through your voting options.