Wisconsin Judge Temporarily Blocks Absentee Ballot Spoiling Guidance

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Friday, Oct. 7, a Wisconsin judge granted a request by conservatives to temporarily suspend Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) guidance that permits voters to ask election officials to spoil (discard) their absentee ballots and receive new ones if they make a mistake, receive a damaged ballot or opt to vote in person instead.

This decision stems from a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a voter and is backed by the conservative organization Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections — a group that has links to Trump allies Derek Lyons and Bill Barr. The lawsuit argues that WEC’s guidance violates Wisconsin law and alleges that election officials lack the authority to spoil a “previously completed and returned absentee ballot by the elector who was issued the absentee ballot.” On Sept. 26, the plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order asking the court to order WEC to withdraw its spoiling guidance and prohibit election officials from discarding previously returned and completed absentee ballots on behalf of voters. 

In today’s decision granting the conservative plaintiff’s request, the judge stated that WEC is temporarily “prohibited from advising, guiding, instructing, publishing, or otherwise communicating information related to spoiling absentee ballots and/or returning absentee ballots to electors” and displaying WEC spoiling guidance that violates Wisconsin law.

This means that election officials will not be able to spoil absentee ballots on behalf of voters or return completed absentee ballots to voters (except in the case in which a voter needs to fix a defective or missing absentee ballot witness certificate). Notably, the withdrawal of WEC’s spoiling guidance will limit options for voters who change their minds or wish to vote via a different method. This lawsuit is part of a larger effort by conservative groups to restrict mail-in voting in Wisconsin.  

Additionally, on Oct. 5, the judge ruled from the bench and granted Rise’s motion to intervene in the case. The student-led nonprofit — focused on empowering and mobilizing college students and youth voters — opposes the plaintiff’s attempt to restrict Wisconsin voters’ options for fixing minor errors on absentee ballots and is now a participant in the case. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.