Voting Rights Group Challenges Absentee Ballot Guidance in Wisconsin
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Sept. 30, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin (LWVWI) filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) guidance regarding what happens when an address is incomplete on a witness certificate envelope accompanying an absentee ballot. The plaintiff claims that because of a decision in a different case, White v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (which established that clerks cannot fill in missing information on absentee ballot certificate envelopes for the November 2022 elections), Wisconsin voters and clerks need legal clarity as to what constitutes a “missing” address. The plaintiff asks for a declaratory judgment as to what constitutes “missing” for the purposes of the address on a witness envelope for an absentee ballot.
In 2016, WEC issued guidance allowing election officials to fill in any missing address information on witness certificates if they can find reliable information. On Sept. 7, 2022, a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge concluded that this guidance violated Wisconsin law and temporarily blocked its use in the upcoming November midterm elections, meaning clerks cannot fill in missing information on witness certificates this fall. On Sept. 13, WEC withdrew its guidance that allowed election officials to fill in missing address information on absentee ballot witness certificates and contained its definition of an address: “[a] street number, street name, and a municipality name.” Therefore, according to the plaintiff, there is not currently “any guidance regarding when a witness address is ‘missing’ within the meaning of” Wisconsin law.
The plaintiff requests that the clerks must not return or exclude any absentee ballot “unless the witness address field is completely blank.” The plaintiff alleges that the lack of current WEC guidance violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act as the “witness’s omission of their state, zip code, or any other address information beyond the three components itemized in WEC’s existing definition of a witness ‘address’ is ‘not material in determining if an individual is qualified to vote in Wisconsin.’” The plaintiff also claims that the current guidance violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment because “government officials may arbitrarily decide to provide or withhold notice and thereby an opportunity to cure.”