Wisconsin Court Angers Democrats on Voting Decision

In 4-3 vote, state's top court bans drop boxes for absentee ballots
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 8, 2022 1:54 PM CDT
Wisconsin Supreme Court Bans Drop Boxes for Absentee Ballots
Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal Building on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.   (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

Wisconsin's conservative-controlled Supreme Court ruled Friday that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and that no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person, dealing a defeat to Democrats who said the decision would make it harder to vote in the battleground state. However, the court didn't address whether anyone other than the voter can return his or her own ballot by mail. That means that anyone could still collect multiple ballots for voters and, instead of using a drop box, put them in the mail, per the AP. Republicans have argued that practice, known as ballot harvesting, is rife with fraud, although there's been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin. Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without the assistance of others.

Supporters argue drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can't be lost or delayed in transit. The decision sets absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and the fall election; Republican US Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are seeking reelection in key races. Johnson and other Republicans hailed it as a win for voter integrity. "This decision is a big step in the right direction," Johnson said. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler, however, said the ruling will make it more difficult for people to vote. "It's a slap in the face of democracy itself," he said. The popularity of absentee voting exploded during the pandemic in 2020, with more than 40% of all voters casting mail ballots, a record high.

After former President Trump lost the state, he and Republicans alleged that drop boxes facilitated cheating, though they offered no evidence. Democrats, election officials, and some GOPers argued the boxes are secure. The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued in 2021. State law is silent on drop boxes, but the state's Supreme Court on Friday said the absence of a prohibition in state law doesn't mean that drop boxes are legal. The court's 4-3 ruling also has critical implications in the 2024 presidential race, in which Wisconsin will again be among a handful of battleground states. President Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state by a similar margin.

(More Wisconsin stories.)

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