WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, July 12, Republican voters and the Republican Party of Waukesha County filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the legality of the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s (WEC) guidance instructing election officials to fill in missing or insufficient information on absentee ballot witness certificate envelopes. Wisconsin state law requires that absentee ballots must be accompanied by a witness certification attesting that a voter completed their absentee ballot in the presence of a witness. In line with this requirement, the WEC guidance permits election officials to fill in missing information, such as an incomplete address, on witness certificates if they are able to track down “reliable information.” The WEC guidance also directs election officials to avoid contacting voters or witnesses to remedy any absentee ballot deficiencies if the clerks can “reasonably discern” the correct information to fill in.
The Republican plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that the WEC guidance violates Wisconsin law and that voters are “harmed” by this protocol for processing absentee ballots. Additionally, the plaintiffs assert that WEC “does not have the power to set aside the policy decisions of the Wisconsin Legislature” and issue its own guidance on absentee ballots beyond what the Legislature has mandated. This line of argument was similarly leveraged in Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the WEC exceeded its authority by allowing the use of drop boxes. The lawsuit asks the court to prohibit election officials from altering or adding information to absentee ballot witness certificates and to require officials to return defective witness certificates directly to voters for correction. This lawsuit comes in the wake of a series of efforts led by Wisconsin Republicans to restrict the ability of voters to cast absentee ballots and to have their votes fairly counted.