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Absentee voting begins for Wisconsin’s April 5 election

Recent court ruling banning unstaffed drop boxes has changed how voters can return absentee ballots

A person drops off a mail-in ballot at an election ballot return box
A person drops off a mail-in ballot at an election ballot return box in Willow Grove, Pa., Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Absentee voting has started for Wisconsin’s April 5 election, but a recent court decision has changed the rules for returning the ballots this time around.

Voters this year won’t be allowed to return absentee ballots to unstaffed ballot drop boxes following a January ruling by Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren.

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court initially stayed Bohren’s ruling, keeping the drop boxes in place for the February primary. But the court later ruled 4-3 that drop boxes wouldn’t be allowed in April.

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The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which had previously offered clerks guidance on drop boxes, retracted that advice following the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling.

But some cities are offering voters options for returning the ballots to locations that offer in-person absentee voting, commonly referred to as early voting.

Wisconsin law allows for early voting no sooner than two weeks before an election, making Tuesday the first day for early voting in the April election.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said her city had locked unstaffed drop boxes as ordered by the court. But Woodall-Vogg said voters can still return ballots to any one of nine in-person absentee voting locations, which are being staffed through April 2 in Milwaukee.

“We’re trying to make early voting as accessible as possible for citizens so that they have options to vote,” Woodall-Vogg said.

Woodall-Vogg said that will also include the option for drive-up absentee ballot delivery on the two Saturdays prior to the election.

“So you don’t even have to get out of your car,” Woodall-Vogg said. “Between 10 (a.m.) and 3 (p.m.), we will have staff outside in yellow vests with a blue, mobile drop box that’s locked, where we will collect ballots and place them and transport them to our warehouse that day so that voters have the peace of mind that their ballots’ been received in time and will be counted.”

Woodall-Vogg said the nine in-person absentee voting sites are the most ever for an April election in Milwaukee. She said plans to expand absentee voting predated the court rulings that restricted drop boxes.

In Madison, the city is offering voters a dozen in-person absentee voting sites. A news release from the Madison City Clerk’s office said voters could drop off filled out absentee ballots at any of the locations.

Unstaffed absentee ballot drop boxes might or might not be back for the August primary and November general election. So far, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the merits of the case.