How ballot drop box ruling could impact Eau Claire’s next election

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 9:13 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -During the November 2020 election, 8,000 voters in the City of Eau Claire used an absentee drop box to cast their vote.

Those drop boxes could be found at City Hall and at Festival Foods grocery stores within the city.

“I think some of the people prefer the drop box because then they know it is getting directly to us versus being sent in the mail, and sometimes it can take a longer period to get to us, so this way they’re making sure their ballots got to us on time,” said Carrie Riepl, the Eau Claire City Clerk.

That’s one of the reasons Riepl said the city first used drop boxes during the April 2020 election.

With the pandemic just starting, many people were choosing to vote absentee.

It became a way to get those ballots back in time to be counted.

“Even though it could have been possible’s a relatively new phenomenon in Wisconsin. It’s designed to make it easier to vote,” said Mort Sipress, a professor emeritus with UW-Eau Claire’s Political Science Department.

As someone who has studied elections for decades, Sipress said drop boxes are a way to expand the right to vote by making voting more accessible.

“If you’ve ever tried to find a parking spot downtown near City Hall, you know it’s going to be a discouragement,” Sipress said. “Putting the drop boxes in supermarket parking lots where coming and going is quite open-- you can see it’d be an expansion of people trying to vote.”

Sipress said the ruling made by a Waukesha County judge that would curb the use of drop boxes is likely to be reversed as state law doesn’t specifically say whether you can use them.

Riepl said the City of Eau Claire plans to continue to use at least one drop box.

“The ballot box here at Eau Claire City Hall is an extension of the clerk’s office, and is allowed by statute,” Riepl said.

Eau Claire’s next election is on Feb. 15.

It’s a primary vote for school board members and a few county supervisory districts.

The city plans to hold a drive thru voting event for that election.

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