Liberal groups in Wisconsin seeking to change rules governing absentee ballots suffered a blow this week after an appeals court and a circuit judge ruled that ballots cannot contain partial addresses of witnesses.
In an order Wednesday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas said there has been nearly 60 years of precedent to determine whether an absentee ballot has enough of a witness address to count.
In his order, Colas wrote that Wisconsin elections have been conducted for 56 years without a legally binding definition of what constitutes a witness address on a ballot. He said clerks have been legally free to interpret the term in good faith, drawing on non-binding guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, its predecessors, and advice from attorneys.
Current guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission is that an address must include three elements: a street number, street name and municipality.
Rise, Inc., a group that works to get young people to vote, argued that election clerks across Wisconsin are not consistently using that definition.
The group sought an order that an address requires only enough information to determine the location of the witness. But Colas said it was inappropriate to issue an order that changes the status quo, rather than preserves it.
In another other case, the 1st District Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal of a ruling from Dane County Circuit Judge Nia Trammell rejecting a request from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin seeking a ruling that an address can only be missing when the entire field is left blank.
The appeals court said it would not hear the case because it did not meet criteria for granting an appeal.
Trammell said that loosening the witness address requirement “would upend the status quo and not preserve it” and “frustrate the electoral process by causing confusion.”
The rulings come within days of next week’s midterms and as more than 503,000 absentee ballots have already either been returned or cast in person.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are both up for reelection in the battleground state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.