Ballot drop boxes prohibited in Wisconsin, Waukesha Co. judge rules

NOW: Ballot drop boxes prohibited in Wisconsin, Waukesha Co. judge rules

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A Waukesha judge ruled in conservatives' favor to prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes, determining they are not allowed under state law.

Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren heard arguments Thursday about the debate over the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, a popular option among voters in 2020 during the pandemic.

Judge Bohren ruled state law allows absentee ballots to be returned in person or by mail, but not in a drop box. The ruling will still allow for a ballot drop box to be located a municipal clerk's office, but not placed elsewhere throughout the state.

"The Elections Commission ought to be required to more carefully follow the traditional mandates of Wisconsin law when they make major policy decisions," said Bohren.

Attorneys representing the state Elections Commission tried to argue ballot drop boxes are still a way to return a ballot in person, however, Bohren dismissed that idea.

The decision could have a major impact on the upcoming spring election on Feb. 15, which defendants in the case argued could result in voter confusion.

"I'm sure the court is aware we are about 30 days from the upcoming spring election, and the purpose of this is to avoiding confusion among the electorate as they go to cast ballots," said Scott Thompson, an attorney representing Disability Rights Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters.

The lawsuit was brought forth by two Wisconsin voters who were represented by the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. An appeal to the case is likely.

Ballot drop boxes began popping up across Wisconsin in the 2020 presidential election during the coronavirus outbreak. The Wisconsin Elections Commission recommended local clerks use them during the pandemic as a way for people to cast a ballot safely.

The ruling comes as Republican lawmakers are also demanding the Wisconsin Elections Commission promulgate rules regarding drop boxes. This week, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted to order WEC to finalize rules within the next 30 days.

The Republican-controlled committee has the authority to kill the commission's rule, therefore also having the ability to suspend the use of drop boxes.

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