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Wisconsin election officials tell clerks best ways to operate absentee ballot drop boxes

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s bipartisan elections commission on Thursday unanimously approved a set of best practices to ensure the security of unattended absentee ballot drop boxes that the state Supreme Court has approved. last week ruled could be installed before the elections in the fall.

The use of drop boxes became a partisan issue after Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes in 2020. Wisconsin is expected to be one of the few swing states again this year, drawing increased attention to voting rules.

Since his defeat, Trump and Republicans have claimed that drop boxes in Wisconsin enabled cheating, even though they have provided no credible evidence. Democrats, election officials and some Republicans have argued that the boxes are secure. A Associated Press Survey of U.S. election officials have found no instances of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the 2020 results.

The best practices approved Thursday and being distributed to the state’s 1,800 local officials who administer elections outline ways to make drop boxes and the surrounding areas safe, well-lit and accessible to voters. The guidance also encourages clerks to empty drop boxes before they fill up.

The directive does not specify that the boxes must be emptied at a specific time. It also says that it is encouraged to keep track of when the drop box is emptied, who did it and how many ballots were collected.

The guidance also recommends that drop boxes be clearly marked and that any damage be documented and inspected to ensure the box is safe to use. Clerks were also encouraged to communicate to voters the locations of drop boxes and when the last date for ballot collection will be.

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The guidelines for clerks are just that. The best practices are not mandatory.

The committee has chosen not to introduce an emergency measure, which does have the legal basis, and has instead issued guidelines for clerks. These guidelines are a response to questions raised by the court ruling last week.

The commission sought to quickly explain what impact the court’s ruling will have on the use of unattended ballot boxes in all future elections, including the Aug. 13 primary and the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Drop boxes have been used in Wisconsin for years, but their popularity exploded in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when more than 40% of Wisconsin voters cast their ballots by mail, a record number.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2022, then controlled by conservatives, decided in favor from a conservative law firm that challenged the use of unmanned drop boxes outside clerks’ offices, such as near libraries and other public spaces. The court ruled that drop boxes may only be placed in offices staffed by election workers, not in remote, unmanned locations.

Liberals mounted a new challenge after the Wisconsin Supreme Court swung to liberal control last year. The court last week overturned the 2022 ruling and allowed mail-in ballots to resume.

According to the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, drop boxes were used in 39 other states during the 2022 election.

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