New court-ordered election guidance: WEC cannot help clerks with incomplete addresses

NOW: New court-ordered election guidance: WEC cannot help clerks with incomplete addresses

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Tuesday the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved new court-ordered guidance for clerks should they come across absentee ballots that are missing required information.

In the past, clerks have been allowed to fill in the gaps, but in early September a judge ruled that's not allowed.

The debate has never been about correcting a vote on an actual ballot, it's about the address and information on the outside of an envelope. The judge ruled clerks can no longer help fill in a missing piece of information.

The guidance approved Tuesday will be sent to clerks Wednesday. It essentially tells them they cannot get involved. Either the voter corrects the missing info or the ballot is invalid.

At Tuesday's WEC meeting, Republican Commissioner Robert Spindell said, "It's very clear this guidance is illegal."

Democratic Commissioner Julie Glancey said, "This court did not say 'withdraw the guidance.'"

Eight weeks before Election Day the state's elections commission is still trying to hammer out the rules for what constitutes a valid or invalid absentee ballot.

After a judge's ruling, many of the state's 1,800+ elections clerks were scrambling to understand what they can or cannot do if the information on an absentee envelope is incomplete.

In 2016 the elections commission told clerks they could add information themselves if all or part of a witness address was missing. But then a Waukesha County judge ruled that was illegal.

Much of Tuesday's commission debate centered on whether the old guidance should be removed.

Democratic Commissioner Ann Jacobs said, "I don't think our guidance is wrong. I don't think we should vote to withdraw it."

Spindell said, "Is the guidance regarding this issue still in effect? The answer apparently would be yes. And that's completely against the judge's orders."

The new guidance says the past guidance from 2016 and 2020 is invalid.

Now the WEC cannot offer advice or guidance to clerks.

The number of ballots affected is expected to be small: the Milwaukee Election Commission reported a little more than 1% of all absentee ballots cast in Milwaukee in April were missing address information.

The judge's decision was another win for conservatives looking to tighten restrictions on absentee voting, and follows the state Supreme Court's ruling in July that said drop boxes are illegal.

Democrats plan to appeal and the case is expected to end up before the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court.

But the clock is ticking closer to the election, and absentee ballots will start coming in soon after they're sent out.

The deadline for absentee ballots to be mailed to voters is Thursday, Sept. 22.

Absentee voting is scheduled to begin in about two weeks.

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