MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin voters must place their own absentee ballots in the mail and can’t have someone do it for them, the state’s chief election administrator said Thursday.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe’s remarks come after the state Supreme Court issued a major decision Friday outlawing absentee ballot drop boxes. The justices ruled that only the voter can return an absentee ballot to local clerks in person.
The court didn’t clarify who can place absentee ballots in the mail, however. Wisconsin law mandates that voters must be the ones to place their ballots in the mail. Federal law, however, allows non-voters to place disabled people’s ballots in the mail.
The elections commission, which is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, couldn’t come to an agreement during a meeting Tuesday on what guidance to issue to clerks.
Wolfe was asked during a question-and-answer session with reporters Thursday what she would tell voters to reduce confusion over who can physically place ballots in mailboxes. Wolfe said voters should ask their local clerks for guidance but added that “right now, the voter is the one required to mail the ballot.”
She said election officials are worried about voter confusion but that it wouldn’t be “appropriate” for her to express any further thoughts beyond what the state Supreme Court said in its ruling.
Republicans have claimed that others mailing absentee ballots on voters’ behalf, a practice known as ballot harvesting, is rife with fraud, although there has been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin.
Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without help.
Barbara Beckert, director of external policy for Disability Rights Wisconsin, stressed that federal law protects the right of disabled people to get help mailing their ballot and to have a person of their choice deliver it to their clerk or polling place and the state Supreme Court ruling didn’t change that.
“If a voter with a disability needs someone else to mail their ballot, they should feel comfortable doing so,” Beckert said.
Elections commission spokesman Riley Vetterkind said later Thursday that Wolfe wasn’t making a policy statement but was simply explaining what state law says.