By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos refused to say Tuesday whether he would support legalizing absentee ballot boxes in the battleground state after former President Donald Trump spoke out against it.
Vos in 2020 voiced support for absentee ballot drop boxes while arguing against the collection of ballots in Madison parks by election workers.
Republicans are working on election-related bills for consideration later this year. Wisconsin law does not currently authorize absentee ballot boxes, even though they were widely used in 2020, an issue that’s the subject of ongoing lawsuits and a growing partisan divide.
On Monday, Trump issued a statement that didn’t name Vos, but said “Some Rino Republicans in Wisconsin are working hand in hand with others to have drop boxes again placed in Wisconsin. Drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans.”
“RINO” is a term used to refer to “Republicans in name only.”
Trump lost Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes to President Joe Biden. The outcome has withstood recounts, lawsuits and a number of reviews.
Since the loss, Republicans have concentrated on limiting the use of absentee-ballot boxes, which were relied more on in 2020 largely owing to the pandemic. Wisconsin’s top elections official testified last year that at least 528 drop boxes were used by more than 430 communities in the presidential election.
A bill being worked on by retiring Republican Sen. Kathy Bernier, a former election clerk, would authorize absentee ballot boxes at municipal clerk’s offices only. It would allow cities with at least 70,000 people to install up to three additional drop boxes on municipal-owned property, other than public parks.
A draft of the legislation was posted on the conservative website Gateway Pundit on Sunday before Trump issued his statement. Bernier has drawn fire from some conservatives after she criticized Republicans who are pushing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and how it was run in Wisconsin.
That bill and others being worked on are in reaction to recommendations from both a review of the election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and one by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
There is also an ongoing investigation into the election ordered by Vos being led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. There are numerous lawsuits pending related to the probe, including one seeking to find Vos in contempt of court for not turning over public records tied to the investigation.
Vos, at a Tuesday news conference, did not directly address the Trump statement or where he stands on ballot boxes after being asked about it, saying only that there is legislation “making its way through the process.”
He also defended a letter sent on his behalf by his attorney to the Madison city clerk in September 2020 supporting the use of absentee ballot boxes.
“We wholeheartedly support voters’ use of any of these convenient, secure, and expressly authorized absentee-ballot-return methods,” attorney Misha Tseytlin wrote then on behalf of Vos and then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
The letter was in objection to Madison’s “Democracy in the Park” event where election officials collected absentee ballots for the 2020 presidential election.
“Our attorney at the time was focused on saying there are lots of ways you can vote,” Vos said Tuesday. “You can vote in person, you can vote absentee, you can go to the clerk’s office, you can vote by mail. You certainly don’t need to have any kind of a ballot harvesting in the park.”
The Wisconsin Appeals Court on Monday allowed for ballot boxes to be used in the upcoming Feb. 15 primary, putting on hold a ruling from a Waukesha County judge barring ballot boxes beyond at the municipal clerk’s office.
Whether ballot boxes can be used after the upcoming primary is subject to ongoing legal battles that will likely ultimately be decided by the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court.