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Judge: Wisconsin absentee ballots without complete addresses can be counted

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(The Center Square) – A judge in Dane County says absentee ballots in Wisconsin don’t need a full address to be counted this year.

Judge Ryan Nilsestuen ruled local election managers need not reject absentee ballots if the absentee witness’ address is incomplete.

“The definition [of an address] preferred by the WEC and the Legislature would establish a simple, bright line rule, but it does not fit within the broader statutory context,” Nilsestuen wrote in his decision. “In fact, it directly conflicts with several other similar terms. Therefore, this definition is improper and, as used by the WEC, invalid.”

The ruling comes after a judge in Waukesha County ruled last year local election clerks could not count ballots with missing address information. The Waukesha County ruling also forbade clerks from “curing” those ballots by adding the missing information.

Nilsestuen said the state law that deals with absentee ballots and witness addresses isn’t clear.

“The problem at hand could be resolved if the Legislature passed a bill to define ‘address.’ Instead, it is up to the judiciary to make sense of an undefined word used in a variety of different contexts in a convoluted and poorly written statute,” the judge added.

Part of the case focused on the different definitions that local election managers use to determine a “full address.”

For example, in Madison, the clerk requires a street number, street name and either the municipality or ZIP code. But in Green Bay, the clerk requires a full address to include a street number, street name, municipality and either the state name or ZIP code.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, said the ruling opens up another election loophole that could be exploited in Wisconsin.

“So, you can request a ballot, without an ID and sign it without an address. Nothing to see here?!” Brandtjen said on social media. “Even without an ID a ballot can be requested for the area where the voter “says” they reside. If this stands, then only a signature would be required. No trace of some voters, like fake military voters, indefinite confined, overseas voters.”

Wisconsin allows military members to submit an absentee ballot without a photo ID, and the state’s indefinitely confined voter law allows people to vote absentee without a witness.

Nilsestuen’s decision could be appealed, but it would likely then end up before Wisconsin’s liberal majority Supreme Court.

Republican lawmakers could try and write a new law that clarifies what constitutes an address for voting purposes.

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