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Top Wisconsin Election Official Defends Voting Events Criticized By GOP

Elections Administrator Says Ballot Drop-Off, Voting Promotions Are Legal

voters drop off ballots in a park
Tom Geis and Marguerite Demattis drop off their absentee ballots with poll workers at James Madison Park on Saturday, Sept. 26. Bridgit Bowden/WPR

The head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Thursday defended voting events, including outdoor absentee ballot collection in Madison and events that include local sports mascots in Milwaukee, that had been criticized by state Republican leaders.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, sent a letter asking the Madison city clerk to cancel “Democracy in the Park” events that allow voters to drop off absentee ballots or get witness signatures on their ballots in parks across the city.

The GOP leaders argued the events are illegal, because they’re not secure enough.

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During a Thursday afternoon call with reporters, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said the events would be illegal if ballots were issued there, but they aren’t.

“The other avenues for a voter to be able to return their ballot, or have opportunities for someone to witness their ballot, those are not prohibited under the law,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said local election officials across the state can create different ways for voters to drop off their ballots, as long as they follow state law.

“Local jurisdictions are able to provide those drop-off opportunities for their voters,” she said.

Many clerks are using absentee ballot dropboxes this year. Wolfe said the Elections Commission has issued guidance about how drop-off locations can comply with state law, including requirements for ballot security.

The Madison city attorney said last week ballots collected at the “Democracy in the Park” events are secured in collection bins with tamper-evident seals and with chain-of-custody logs. The clerk’s office said 10,813 absentee ballots were collected at the event held last Saturday.

Wolfe also weighed in on criticism from the chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin related to voting events at Miller Park and Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

In a Tuesday letter, GOP chair Andrew Hitt said it would be illegal for athletes and mascots for local sports teams to be present to promote early voting when it begins at Miller Park and Fiserv Forum on Oct. 20. He argued their presence would be illegal “electioneering.”

Wolfe said as long as the mascots or players aren’t promoting a certain candidate or issue, it’s legal for them to be there.

“There’s always get-out-the-vote efforts, in terms of people encouraging other folks to vote, and there’s no prohibition on that type of activity,” she said.

The Brewers Racing Sausages were featured at a Miller Park voter registration event last month. According to Major League Baseball, another voting-related event is scheduled to take place at Miller Park before Election Day.

Wolfe also provided more information about mail that was found in a ditch in Greenville last week. According to the Appleton Post Crescent, the local sheriff said “several” absentee ballots were included in the mail.

Wolfe said the Elections Commission has confirmed with local election officials and the U.S. Postal Service that none of those ballots were Wisconsin absentee ballots. She said she didn’t have any more information about where the ballots were from.