Local clerks scramble to educate voters after judge bans absentee ballot drop boxes

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A Waukesha judge's ruling to ban ballot drop boxes is getting pushback from local clerks who are left scrambling to educate voters ahead of the spring primary election.

On Thursday, Waukesha County Judge Michael Bohren ruled ballot drop boxes are illegal, and prohibited voters from using more than 500 drop boxes placed throughout the state.

The decision comes weeks before the Feb. 15 primary and days before tens of thousands of absentee ballots will be sent to voters.

"We're going to have to scramble, mostly on education, because voters are going to think they can use a drop box," said Scott McDonell, Dane County Clerk. "It's really frustrating because it makes no sense at all."

While an appeal to the ruling is expected, for now it means voters can only turn in their absentee ballot by mail or in person to their local clerk.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said it really puts voters and drop boxes in limbo for upcoming elections.

"Wisconsin has a history of getting these judicial decisions right before elections that creates confusion," said Woodall-Vogg.

Drop boxes became a popular option for voters over the last two years during the pandemic. Woodall Vogg said it gave voters "a piece of mind" because many were fearful of contracting COVID-19 if they voted in person.

Attorneys who brought forth the lawsuit argue drop boxes should have never been allowed since there's nothing written about them in state law.  

"You can search the statute and you will not find the word 'drop box' anywhere," said Luke Berg, attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. "There are no restrictions on where they can go, how many there can be, on how secure they can be."

Woodall-Vogg slammed Berg's comments as "ludicrous," noting all of Milwaukee's drop boxes are monitored by 24-hours surveillance, secured, and have strict chain of custody laws.

The city also spent $20,000 to upgrade surveillance cameras to make sure they monitor drop boxes.

Republican lawmakers have tried to ban drop boxes ever since Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden by about 21,000 votes in Wisconsin.

They've also passed a serious of election bills seeking to restrict early voting, limit who can return absentee ballots and require additional documentation to prove someone is considered indefinitely confined.

All of the measures have been blocked by Governor Tony Evers, which Republicans argue would have restored confidence in our elections.

Democrats have long-called these efforts an attack on democracy, and instead advocate to make voting easier, not harder for people.

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