Judge refuses to allow partial absentee addresses, for now

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Dane County judge refused Friday to issue a temporary order that would allow local election clerks to accept partial witness addresses on absentee ballots.

A group called Rise Inc. filed a lawsuit in September seeking a judicial order requiring the Wisconsin Elections Commission to tell local clerks that they must accept ballots as long as the witness address includes enough information that clerks can reasonably discern where the witness can be contacted. The day after the group filed the lawsuit its attorneys asked Judge Juan Colas to issue a temporary injunction mandating the commission issue that guidance to clerks.

Colas refused to issue the order during a hearing Friday morning, online court records indicate. The case will continue with a scheduling conference set for Oct. 17.

Rise Inc., which encourages students to vote, sued after a Waukesha County judge last month sided with Republicans and said clerks are barred from filling in missing witness information on ballot envelopes. The judge struck down guidance the elections commission put in place six years ago, saying nothing in state law allows clerks to do that.

The practice was unchallenged until Donald Trump lost Wisconsin to Joe Biden in 2020. About 1.4 million voters cast absentee ballots in that election, held before COVID-19 vaccines were available.

The League of Women Voters has filed a similar lawsuit in Dane County last month seeking an order saying absentee ballots with partial witness addresses should be accepted. That case remains pending.

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