UPDATE: On Monday, Jan. 24, an appellate court stayed (meaning paused) the trial court order banning drop boxes through Feb. 15, the date of the state’s primary elections. This means that drop boxes will be eligible for use in the upcoming primary elections. The pause expires on Feb. 15, after which WEC will have to comply with the trial court order if no other relief has been granted. An appeal on the merits of the trial court order is currently pending before the appellate court.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, a judge for the Circuit Court of Waukesha County formally entered an order banning drop boxes in the state after their widespread use during the 2020 election cycle. The decision stems from a hearing that was held last Friday in Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), a case brought by conservative activists challenging WEC guidance that expanded the use of drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs argue that this guidance is contrary to Wisconsin election laws and drop boxes should be banned.
Last fall, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment (asking the judge to rule on their claims without a full trial) and a preliminary injunction banning the use of drop boxes while litigation continued. Ruling from the bench last Friday and in his written order filed yesterday, the judge sided with the plaintiffs, prohibiting the use of drop boxes in Wisconsin and barring any third party — like a family member or neighbor — from returning an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter. In his three-page order, the judge declared that “WEC’s interpretation of state statutes” in its previous guidance expanding the use of drop boxes “is inconsistent with state law.” Both WEC and nonprofit groups that intervened in the case immediately filed a notice of appeal on Thursday and asked the judge to stay (meaning pause) his decision for the state’s upcoming February elections. The last-minute change to drop boxes has already caused confusion for voters and election officials alike. Today, the judge for the Circuit Court of Waukesha County will hold a hearing to decide whether to stay his order; if he declines to do so, parties can appeal to a state court of appeals for a stay.