Brief

Dane Co. judge directs WEC to issue guidance on absentee ballot witness addresses

By: - January 31, 2024 2:11 pm
An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)

An absentee ballots for the April 7 election. (Photo by Henry Redman)

A Dane County judge ruled Tuesday that the Wisconsin Elections Commission has until Feb. 9 to issue guidance to election clerks over what address components are required to be included for an absentee ballot to be accepted. 

Prior to the ruling, the municipal clerks of Green Bay, Madison and Racine requested last week that the judge, who earlier this month barred clerks from rejecting absentee ballots due to certain missing aspects of witness addresses, be specific in how to implement his ruling. 

When a person fills out an absentee ballot, state law requires that someone witness the completion of that ballot and provide a witness signature and address on  the ballot envelope. Judge Ryan Nilsestuen ruled earlier this month that ballots can be accepted even if parts of the address, like the zip code or full state name, are missing. 

In a letter to Nilsestuen, the three clerks requested that he give clerks and the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) enough information to deal with the realities of processing ballots, saying that without “bright-line rules” the decision could open election officials up to facing “myriad complaints” about the acceptability of certain ballots. 

The letter included several examples of common ways addresses are written on ballots, such as only listing an apartment complex and unit number, a business address or just using a county name and not the specific municipality. 

“Municipal clerks will be charged with implementing policies consistent with whatever injunctive relief the Court orders following the upcoming hearing,” the letter states. No less significantly, those clerks are also likely to face myriad complaints to the Wisconsin Elections Commission related to the sufficiency of witness addresses in the absence of bright-line rules — complaints which may end up back with the courts.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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