GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — An election complaint has been filed against Green Bay City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys over the way absentee ballots were handled during the spring election earlier this month.
In the complaint, which was filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission last week, three election observers that signed sworn affidavits claim they saw Jeffreys accepting multiple absentee ballots from one voter. You can read the complaint here.
“They saw this many times and they objected. Celestine Jeffreys articulated to them that she had the discretion to do that and that she wouldn’t honor their objections,” said Erick Kaardal, the attorney who filed the complaint.
The complaint goes further to claim that one of the observers, Janet Angus, spoke with city attorney Joanne Bungert who reiterated that it was up to the clerk's discretion.
"She backed up Celestine Jeffreys on that, that it was a grey area, that she had the discretion to accept multiple absentee ballots from an individual voter," Kaardal said.
State law surrounding absentee ballots is an issue that is currently in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Earlier this year, a Waukesha County judge ruled that unstaffed ballot drop boxes are not allowed under state law, despite being previously allowed under guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
“Only the Wisconsin Elections Commission was a party to that lawsuit and to the injunction, so that left 1,850 municipal clerks around the state plus 72 county clerks without guidance," said Stacie Rosenzweig, an election law attorney based in Milwaukee.
Rosenzweig says that while previously a clerk may have had the discretion to accept more than one absentee ballot from one person, that Wisconsin Supreme Court case, Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, could change that.
"For many years prior to this particular cycle, your spouse could bring your ballot to the mailbox or bring it to the clerk's office to save you the trip,“ Rosenzweig said. "The proponents of the Teigen lawsuit would have you believe that absent statutory authorization or special permission in that way, nobody other than the voter can bring in a ballot to the clerks office."
Kaardal cited the case in the complaint and argues that there should be uniform guidance among city clerks.
"What’s really here is the credibility of the interpretation by some election officials that absentee ballot harvesting is not illegal in Wisconsin," Kaardal said.
The city clerk has 10 business days to provide a sworn written response to the complaint. From there, the complainant will have 10 more days to file a response before the Wisconsin Elections Commission issues a decision.