A Waukesha judge ruled on Thursday that absentee ballot drop boxes can no longer be used in Wisconsin as the state prepares for the midterm elections, NPR reports.
According to the NPR, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren said that absentee ballots could not be returned through drop boxes because “there’s no authority to do it.” 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) and could potentially remove an option for voting ahead of the state’s crucial midterm elections, NPR noted.
The judge’s decision comes just days after GOP lawmakers on the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules ordered the Elections Commission to reissue its ballot box guidance as an emergency rule, which would give GOP lawmakers the power to block it.
The Elections Commission issued the guidance in 2020, first in March and then again in August in the run-up to Wisconsin’s presidential election. The move came as more and more residents turned to absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission’s attorney, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Kilpatrick, argued in court that the documents were meant to be advice to local clerks, who run elections.
“These memos are guidance documents because they guide local election officials,” Kilpatrick said. “They do not order them to do anything.”
But Luke Berg, a deputy counsel for WILL, argued that because there is no state law specifically allowing for drop boxes, there is no legal standard for what form they should take.
The ruling is all but certain to be appealed.
Bohren said he was giving the Elections Commission until Jan. 27 to rescind its drop box guidance to clerks. But the ruling is all but certain to be appealed by the Commission.
“Staff and WEC commissioners plan to review the court’s order and consult with legal counsel in the coming days,” said Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesperson Riley Vetterkind.
The case is one of several filed by Republicans and their allies in an attempt to change the rules for voting ahead of the 2022 election.