Nass demands commission publish drop box, absentee rules
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of the leaders of the Legislature’s rules committee demanded Thursday that the Wisconsin Elections Commission publish emergency rules governing absentee ballot drop boxes and corrections to absentee ballot information by early February, a move that would allow the panel to kill the policies.
Republican Sen. Steve Nass, the rules committee’s co-chairman, wants to see regulations codifying guidance the commission gave local election clerks as the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The guidance expanded the definition of drop boxes to include mail slots at municipal buildings and book return slots at libraries. It also stated that clerks could set up alternate sites for returning absentee ballots.
Republicans are upset with the guidance because officials in Madison, a Democratic stronghold, used it to justify collecting ballots in city parks ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The GOP argues that the move opened to the door to fraud, however there is no evidence that it did.
An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states where former President Donald Trump is still disputing results, including Wisconsin, found fewer than 475 cases, a number so low it would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election. Some of those charged with fraud are registered Republicans or told investigators they were Trump supporters.
The review found that election officials in Wisconsin have referred 31 cases of potential fraud to prosecutors in 12 of the state’s 72 counties. That amounts to about 0.15% of Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state.
Nass also wants the commission to develop rules codifying guidance issued in October 2016 allowing clerks to fix mistakes in witness addresses on absentee ballot envelopes.
Absentee voters must get a witness to sign off on the ballot and supply his or her address on the ballot envelope. The commission said clerks could fix mistakes in witness addresses on their own without contacting the witnesses or voters. Republicans contend clerks should be required to contact the witness or voter to correct the address or discard the ballots.
The guidance in both cases amounts to little more than advice from the commission and isn’t binding on clerks.
The commission on Dec. 1 voted to draft rules that would require drop boxes to be secure and easily accessible and that would allow clerks to correct witness addresses on their own. But the drafting process will likely take at least a year, meaning nothing would change before next year’s gubernatorial election.
Nass wants to the committee to vote next Tuesday on motions that would force the commission to publish the guidance as emergency rules by Feb. 3. Once that’s done the committee could vote to invalidate them.
It’s unclear whether the Tuesday meeting will happen. Nass said in a news release that the committee’s Assembly co-chairman, Republican Rep. Adam Neylon, hasn’t agreed to meet yet. Neylon didn’t immediately respond to a message left at his Capitol office.
Asked for comment, commission spokesman John Smalley pointed out commissioners have voted to begin work on the rules.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn declined to hold Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in contempt for not following a November court order to turn over records related to an investigation he launched into the 2020 election to liberal group American Oversight.
The judge said she doesn’t know how thoroughly Vos and his staff has searched for the records. She scheduled another hearing in the case for Jan. 24.
Vos hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gabelman this summer to review the election at a cost of $676,000. He has said Gabelman holds the records in question.