A Dane County judge has declined to issue an order directing clerks to accept absentee ballots so long as witnesses included any information on their addresses, saying it would cause confusion so close to the election.

Judge Nia Trammell on Wednesday noted the Wisconsin Elections Commission previously issued guidance that a complete address included a street number, a street name and a municipality. A key factor required in granting an injunction is that it would preserve the status quo.

But Trammel said during an oral ruling from the bench an injunction would assuredly be appealed on an expedited basis and could cause confusion among voters who caught “snippets of the court’s decision from local media or by word of mouth.”

“To issue a temporary injunction would upend the status quo, not preserve it,” she said.

Trammell is the second Dane County judge to decline a request to direct clerks to accept ballots with missing witness address information. Both lawsuits were filed after a Waukesha County judge ruled that clerks could no longer fill in missing information from witness addresses. The Dane County suits sought to essentially negate the impact of the Waukesha County ruling.

Missing witness address information became an issue in the 2020 election as former President Trump sought unsuccessfully to challenge more than 5,500 ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties where clerks filled in missing information.

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s review of the 2020 election looked at 14,710 absentee ballot certificates in 29 municipalities. It found 1,022 had partial witness addresses. That includes 799 that didn’t have a ZIP code and 364 that didn’t have a state.

The LAB also noted in that report that state law doesn’t define an address. While the commission has provided guidance on what constitutes an address, it doesn’t carry the weight of state law. That means clerks could, for example, reject an absentee ballot if it failed to include a ZIP code.

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