'If you put your ballot in here, it won't be counted': Court order creates confusion for clerks, voters ahead of April 5

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Headaches and confusion. That's what some city clerks and voters are dealing with ahead of the April 5 election.

For the last several weeks, local clerks have been trying to educate as many voters as possible that they cannot give their absentee ballot to someone else and return it on their behalf due to a recent state Supreme Court ruling.

The high court's decision has led to some clerks turning voters away who show up with multiple ballots. Others are seeking legal advice because of the uncertainty surrounding voters with disabilities who often have difficulty returning their own ballot.

Jaimie Krueger, who began working as the Whitefish Bay village clerk ahead of the 2020 presidential election, said it's been a whirlwind keeping up with changes to election laws.

"It's a lot to just make sure I fully understand what the rules are and then being proactive with communication," Krueger said. "It's hard because sometimes these changes are immediately right before an election."

Over the last several weeks, Krueger has made changes to their office with signs that notify voters they can only return their own ballot, not multiple for other people. They also restricted access to drop boxes besides one located at the front entrance.

Whitefish Bay is one of several communities that cannot remove their outdoor drop box because it's also used for people to pay utility bills and other municipal documents. If a ballot is found inside, Krueger is telling voters it won't count.

"It's a picture with a red line through a ballot and says if you put your ballot in here -- it won't be counted, per state statute," Krueger said.

Krueger, like many election officials, is following the court order that says voters can only return their absentee ballot by mail or drop it off at the clerk's office. The ruling is currently only in place for the April election.

“I think people here understand that we are not the ones making the rules, we unfortunately have to enforce them,” said Krueger.

Earlier this month, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities sent clerks a memo that the high court's ruling doesn't necessarily apply across the state. That's why some clerks are treating the order differently than others. It's also leading them to contact their lawyers because the league warned it could result in litigation if not followed correctly.

In the memo, it states: "Clerks who refuse to accept absentee ballots delivered by third parties on behalf of disabled electors may face claims they effectively prevented those voters from voting and face litigation under the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and Americans with Disabilities Act, or both."

Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said she will accept ballots if voters confirm they are returning it for individuals who are indefinitely confined.

"If some are returning more than one ballot, we ask if the voter asked for their assistance," Woodall-Vogg said. "There is no requirement to show proof of ID when returning a ballot and we are not asking for any other proof."

More clarity on absentee voting and ballot drop boxes is expected to come soon. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an oral argument on the matter April 13.

“It's unfortunate that it’s led to confusion because so many people relied on absentee ballot drop boxes in previous elections,” Woodall-Vogg said.

The city of Milwaukee also accepts absentee ballots at any of their nine early voting sites during voting hours. On Saturday, April 2, voters can show up at one of those same locations to use a convenient drive-up option to drop off their ballot without leaving their vehicle. It will be available from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Woodall-Vogg said last weekend more than 1,000 people used the service.

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