MADISON – The state Supreme Court blocked Dane County’s clerk Tuesday from telling large groups of voters they could request absentee ballots without showing a photo ID because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The high court found Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell had posted inaccurate information on Facebook about when voters could request absentee ballots without providing a photo ID. It ordered him to make sure future advice complied with guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The unsigned order did not note any dissents. Justice Daniel Kelly, who is on the April 7 ballot, did not participate in the decision.
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McDonell last week told voters they could designate themselves as indefinitely confined to get absentee ballots without providing an ID if they were staying in their home because of the pandemic and didn’t have the ability to provide a copy of their ID.
He said he was not trying to circumvent the voter ID law, but wanted to alert voters that those who are confined can get absentee ballots without an ID. Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson offered similar advice.
The Republican Party last week asked the Supreme Court to stop McDonell from giving such advice and it agreed to do so Tuesday.
The justices ruled all voters cannot be considered confined just because Gov. Tony Evers has ordered people to stay at home except when they are conducting essential business.
“McDonell appeared to assert that all voters are automatically, indefinitely confined solely due to the emergency and the Safer at Home Order and that voters could therefore declare themselves to be indefinitely confined when requesting an absentee ballot, which would allow them to skip the step of presenting or uploading a valid proof of identification,” the justices wrote.
“Indeed, we do not see how the respondents could prevail with an argument that such statements in the March 25th post constitute an accurate statement of the relevant statutory provisions.”
In a statement, McDonell said he would comply with the court’s order and all along had meant to follow guidance provided by the Elections Commission.
“My intent at all times was to protect the safety of seniors afraid to leave their homes due to this pandemic,” he said in his statement.
“I hope that all voters request an absentee ballot by this Thursday to ensure their own health and those of the election workers on the front line. You the VOTER get to determine if you are indefinitely confined based on your individual circumstances.”
Soon after the court issued its order, Christenson revised the advice he had given to Milwaukee County voters.
“It is very important to note that ‘indefinite confinement’ based only upon the Governor’s Safer at Home Emergency Order cannot be used to legally avoid the photo ID requirement,” he wrote in his updated statement.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, praised the decision.
“Today, a unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision soundly rejected the far-left politics of clerks in our state who were trying to undermine an election,” he said in a statement.
The Elections Commission has told voters that those who are indefinitely confined do not necessarily have a total or permanent inability to leave their residences. The designation is appropriate for those who are confined because of age, illness, infirmity or disability, according to the commission.
It is not to be used simply to get around the voter ID law, according to the commission.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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