Wisconsin judge refuses to uphold restrictions on ballot boxes | News, Sports, Jobs

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MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Friday refused to stay a ruling restricting the use of mail-in ballot boxes, dismissing arguments that the decision will confuse voters heading into the Feb. 15 spring primary.

Waukesha County District Judge Michael Bohren’s decision gives Republicans another victory as they fight on multiple fronts to limit the use of Dropboxes statewide ahead of the November gubernatorial election.

The use of drop boxes has become a charged political issue since the Wisconsin Electoral Commission told officials in 2020 they could put drop boxes wherever they wanted. A number of Wisconsin cities placed them in multiple locations, including city parks, during the 2020 presidential election. Officials hoped this approach would result in shorter polling lines and a lower chance of COVID-19 spreading.

Democrats pushed for multiple locations in hopes they would result in higher turnout. Republicans criticized this, saying more locations meant more opportunities for fraud. The GOP failed to present evidence of widespread fraud during the election, and recounts and numerous court hearings have confirmed that Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump.

Still, two Milwaukee voters represented by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in June challenging the electoral commission’s leadership. A number of groups, including the Commission, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the League of Women Voters, oppose the lawsuit.

Bohren sided with voters in a Jan. 13 ruling, saying the commission had no legal basis to issue such advice and ordered the body to overturn it by Jan. 27.

The Justice Department, led by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, told Bohren Thursday that it intends to appeal. Defendant groups urged Bohren on Friday to stay the sentence in an emergency, arguing that changing the voting process so close to the Feb. 15 primary would confuse voters and prevent people from casting ballots.

Luke Berg, an attorney with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, countered that limiting Dropbox placement is a simple change that shouldn’t confuse anyone.

Bohren refused to grant the stay, saying he was confident the ruling would not do irreparable harm. He also reiterated that the Electoral Commission had no legal basis for advising employees to put mailboxes everywhere and there was no harm in going back to the pre-2020 status quo.

Bohren ordered the commission to lift its guidance by Monday and push back its deadline by three days. The commission called a meeting for Monday afternoon to discuss next steps.

The lawsuit is part of a multifaceted GOP effort to restrict Dropboxing.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last year vetoed Republican bills that would have limited Dropbox locations and who could return ballots.

The former Lt. gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a GOP candidate for governor, filed her own lawsuit directly with the state Supreme Court in November to challenge the Electoral Commission’s guidelines on officers. And a constituent filed a third lawsuit earlier this month to overturn the commission’s rejection of a complaint he filed via Dropboxes.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Legislature Rules Committee has directed the Electoral Commission to draft the guidelines into rule form that would allow the committee to block them.

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