Wisconsin voters who have cast absentee ballots Friday will not be allowed to drop them in any other boxes than those at the offices of election clerks.
The conservative majority of Wisconsin's Supreme Court judges ruled in favor of Democrats. They had argued for the extension and leniency of drop box rules that were established during the pandemic. This decision will likely impact voter turnout in Wisconsin's closely monitored governor's and U.S. Senate elections this summer and fall, as well as future elections beyond 2022. Democratic Governor Tony Evers and Republican Senator Ron Johnson are running for re-election. Primaries are scheduled for August 9.
Trump and his associates have repeatedly criticised the use of drop boxes to collect absentee ballots. They falsely claim that it led to voter fraud in 2020. Wisconsin is just one of many states in which Republicans have waged war against their use, often at Trump’s request.
The high court of the state ruled that only Republicans control the state Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans, has the power to pass laws and policies regarding absentee ballot drops boxes. Not the Wisconsin Elections Commission (a bipartisan organization that supervises elections in Wisconsin).
However, the court did not decide on a key issue in the case, namely whether absentee votes could be dropped at local election clerks' offices or mailed there by other voters -- a practice conservatives call "ballot harvesting."
"Only the legislature can allow absentee voting via ballot drops boxes." The opinion was written by the conservative majority of the court.
The justices stated that ballot drop boxes are not included in the detailed statute system for absentee voter. "WEC's authorization for ballot drop boxes was illegal, so we affirm the circuit court’s declarations, permanent injunctions of WEC’s erroneous legal interpretations except where it required absentee voters personally to mail their ballots. This issue is not ours to decide, and we decline at this point to decide if the memos are invalid as unpromulgated administrative regulations."
Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in a concurring opinion that the court's case was not about "ensuring everyone can vote" or "making absentee voting easier and more secure." Court watchers consider Justice Hagedorn to be the swing vote of the bench.
He wrote, "Those are policy issues, and where law doesn't speak, they are business of other branches, not of the judiciary."
Friday's ruling is another chapter in the legal drama surrounding the use of absentee vote drop boxes.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty brought the lawsuit on behalf of two voters. A Waukesha County circuit court judge decided that absentee ballot drop boxes could not be used in Wisconsin in January. The judge stated that state law allows absentee votes to be returned in person, or by mail. However, they cannot be used in ballot drop boxes. Absentee ballots can only be dropped off at local election clerks' offices or mailed to them by the voters.
The state appeals court ruled that drop boxes can be used in February's judicial primaries because they are occurring so soon after the ruling by the county circuit court. Later, the state Supreme Court took control of the case and agreed to allow the boxes to be used in February, but not April.
Voting rights advocates argue that eliminating absentee ballot drop boxes will make it harder for voters to vote -- a position the court’s liberal wing repeated in its dissent in February’s ruling, and again on Friday.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who wrote in her dissent to the majority's opinion Friday, said that it "blithely and incorrectly seeks to sow distrust and suspicion in the administration and management of our elections and through its flawed analysis, erects yet more barriers for voters to exercise this sacred right'."
Trump repeatedly claimed without supporting evidence that drop boxes were the source of voter fraud in 2020. He lost. Many of his false claims have been focused on states in which President Joe Biden won with small margins. Biden beat Trump in Wisconsin by less than 21,000 votes.
Drop boxes, which look like mailboxes and allow voters to cast their ballots in a convenient manner, are not prone to fraud. Therefore, election officials have put in place safeguards to ensure that eligible voters cast mail-in ballots. Each state has its own rules. Typically, mail-in ballots can be verified by election officials. They compare the signatures to the on-file signatures of registered voters.