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Wisconsin Supreme Court Quashes Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes Ahead of Primary 

July 8, 2022 by Reece Nations
Wisconsin Supreme Court Quashes Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes Ahead of Primary 
A Wisconsin dropbox (Associated Press)

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday in a 4–3 decision that absentee ballot drop boxes are not permitted by state law and may only be located in election offices rather than throughout each county across the state as they were during the 2020 elections.

The court’s conservative majority ruled that only individual voters can return a ballot in person, but didn’t address whether anyone other than the voter can return their own ballot by mail. The ruling deals a blow to Wisconsin Democrats who had maintained that limiting the availability of drop boxes in the state would hurt voter participation by making it harder for the elderly and disabled people to cast their votes.

Around 500 drop boxes were used in nearly all counties in 2020, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission had argued in court that drop boxes and third-party ballot collection are legal under Wisconsin election laws and should be permitted in future elections. These arguments weren’t enough to sway the court, however.

“Only the Legislature may permit absentee voting via ballot drop boxes,” Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley wrote in the majority opinion. “[The Wisconsin Elections Commission] cannot. Ballot drop boxes appear nowhere in the detailed statutory system for absentee voting.”

The ruling sets the stage for the Aug. 9 primaries in the state, which will determine which candidates go on to represent their respective parties in the Nov. 8 general election. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who is up for reelection this year, heralded the decision as a win for election integrity, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers decried it for undermining the democratic process.

“There is no evidence at all in this record that the use of drop boxes fosters voter fraud of any kind. None,” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in the dissenting opinion. “And there certainly is no evidence that voters who used drop boxes voted for one candidate or party or another, tilting elections either direction.”

In June, the Marquette University Law School published polling data that showed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tim Michels held a slim 1% lead over former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. On the Democratic side, current Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes holds a 4 percentage point lead over Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry.

During the 2020 election cycle, Wisconsin experienced a voter turnout of 72.3% according to elections commission data. Election deniers have raised concerns that the drop boxes could be used for illegal ballot harvesting, although no evidence for this has been found in the state.

In December 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed a case brought by former President Donald Trump’s legal team that sought to overturn the election results. The court concluded in the case that “the challenge to indefinitely confined voter ballots [was] without merit,” essentially declaring it would not disenfranchise millions of voters in the state.

“Protecting the chain of custody for someone’s ballot is a critical part of making it easy to vote but hard to cheat. Today’s ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court takes a major step in that direction,” Kenneth Blackwell, chair of the Center for Election Integrity at America First Policy Institute, said in a statement shared with The Well News. “The court banned unsecured, unmonitored drop boxes from being placed in neighborhoods and allowed them to only be present outside election centers. This is a great win for the voters of Wisconsin.”

Proponents of absentee ballot drop boxes argue that it is more secure than mailing ballots because they are directly sent to election clerks without the possibility of being lost or delayed in transit. Additionally, the drop boxes present an alternative for individuals who wish to avoid possible transmission of COVID-19, which has continued circulating in differing strains since the onset of the pandemic.

“With its ruling today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is making it more difficult to vote,” State Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said in a written statement. “It’s a slap in the face of democracy itself. 

“We know this decision will impact people with disabilities, seniors, people living in rural communities, people with limited means, few transport options, and inflexible work schedules who are disproportionately young people and people of color. The court’s ruling makes it more clear that our freedom to vote is under attack.”

The Well News reached out to the Wisconsin Elections Commission for comment on the ruling but received no response by press time. Eligible voters in Wisconsin can request an absentee ballot or find polling places for the August partisan primaries at myvote.wi.gov.

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com and @ReeceNations

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