A new ballot collection box has been installed outside of Madison Fire Department Station #4, on Monroe Street, on Friday, October 16, 2020. The City of Madison Clerk’s Office is installing 14 secure ballot drop boxes outside of fire stations and at the Elver Park shelter. Photo by Ruthie Hauge, Capital Times

The state Elections Commission failed to agree on guidance for local clerks on how to follow the state Supreme Court ruling that found drop boxes for absentee ballots are illegal.

But some members suggested the commission could provide guidance later after having more time to digest Friday’s ruling.

New Chair Don Millis during yesterday’s meeting suggested the commission sign off on a letter drafted by agency staff that went over key points of Friday’s ruling.

He noted the commission has been under fire and there have been calls to get rid of it.

“I don’t think that we do the public any justice or the institution here by avoiding issues,” said Millis, a GOP appointee.

But Dem members argued the court’s ruling left several key questions unanswered and the memo didn’t provide clarity on issues such as who can place an absentee ballot in the mail. The majority wrote in its ruling the court wasn’t addressing that issue.

The ruling bars those other than the voter from returning ballots in person to the clerk. But it didn’t address whether others can collect absentee ballots and place them in the mail — a practice critics describe as ballot harvesting. And the dissent noted the majority failed to draw a distinction between manned and unmanned drop boxes, raising questions for clerks.

Dem members also objected to a suggestion by GOP appointee Bob Spindell to advise clerks they should check the IDs of those who drop off absentee ballots at their offices.

Dem appointee Mark Thomsen noted the majority opinion made a point in its ruling of saying the commission doesn’t have the power to create guidance outside of what’s allowed in state law. He said state statutes don’t require voters dropping off their absentee ballots in person to show an ID and suggested Spindell should resign and run for the Legislature if he wants to impose such a requirement.

“We don’t have the power to do this,” Thomsen said.

Spindell agreed to soften his motion to direct clerks to check the identity of those who drop off their absentee ballots. But it failed 3-3, as did the motion to approve the memo drafted by the staff.

Meanwhile, the commission voted unanimously to approve agency staff to work on a memorandum of understanding with the office of Assembly Campaigns and Elections Commission Chair Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, on data she has demanded be turned over.

Brandtjen in December first began seeking information on the state’s voter information system. Since then, she has dropped her requests for personally identifiable information on voters, which the agency said couldn’t be turned over.

Staff also now estimates it would cost $4,600 to meet Brandtjen’s request and the agency could absorb the costs. Brandtjen has objected to the agency seeking to require the Assembly to pay for the records.

The motion directs staff to work on a MOU that would state the documents aren’t being provided as a public record and may not be used for any private purpose or anything beyond a task of the committee.

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