Pro-Voting Groups Sue Wisconsin Over Burdensome Absentee Voting Rules 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, July 20, Priorities USA, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans and a voter filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission challenging three separate rules regulating absentee voting procedures in Wisconsin. 

The lawsuit alleges that three separate absentee voting rules violate the Wisconsin Constitution. Furthermore, the plaintiffs assert that Wisconsin law disenfranchises voters by treating absentee voting as a “privilege” as opposed to a “right.”

First, the plaintiffs challenge the state’s absentee ballot witness requirement. This rule requires an absentee ballot to be accompanied by a witness certificate — which contains a witness address — in order to prove that a voter completed their absentee ballot in the presence of an individual who can attest to the voter’s eligibility to vote absentee. Additionally, if an absentee ballot contains an error, voters may only “cure” (meaning fix) said errors in the presence of the original witness. The plaintiffs allege that this requirement burdens the right to vote and violates the Wisconsin Constitution’s right to a secret ballot, since witnesses can easily see how voters marked their absentee ballots. 

Second, the plaintiffs challenge Wisconsin’s complete prohibition on drop boxes, which emerged following the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission. Since this decision, voters can only return their absentee ballots to a municipal clerk via mail or by dropping their absentee ballot off at a “polling place or central count location.” The plaintiffs contend that the state’s ban on drop boxes leads to disenfranchisement and argue that drop boxes should be reinstated since they are a secure, accessible and reliable method by which to return absentee ballots. 

Third, the plaintiffs challenge the deadline by which voters must “cure” errors on their absentee ballot envelopes. Under Wisconsin law, voters must cure defective absentee ballot envelopes by 8 p.m. on Election Day “if time permits.” The plaintiffs allege that this deadline deprives “voters who return their ballots on or close to Election Day” of the “cure opportunities that are extended to other absentee voters.” The complaint notes that “[i]n many cases, the inability to return an absentee ballot in time to permit a cure before 8 p.m. on election day may be due to no fault of the voter.” 

Finally, the plaintiffs challenge Wisconsin law for construing absentee voting as a “privilege” and not a “right,” despite the fact that Wisconsin Constitution protects the fundamental right to vote. In turn, the plaintiffs assert that the law’s differential treatment of in-person ballots versus absentee ballots violates the Wisconsin Constitution. 

“Under the guise of an untenable distinction between the ‘right’ to vote and the ‘privilege’ of absentee voting, the Wisconsin Legislature has erected unjustifiable barriers to the franchise for the elderly, people with disabilities, and other individuals who vote absentee,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs argue that all three absentee voting rules violate the Wisconsin Constitution and ask the court to deem them invalid. 

Read the complaint here. 

Learn more about the case.