Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Friday ruled that ballot drop boxes must be exclusively located inside election offices around the state and that no one other than the voter can cast a ballot in person.
The 4-3 conservative-led majority dealt a blow to Democrats in the key state won by President Biden against former President Trump in 2020 by over 20,000 votes.
The court ruled that absentee ballots also can be returned only to the clerk’s office or a specified alternative location but that site cannot be an unstaffed drop box.
“Nothing in the statutory language detailing the procedures by which absentee ballots may be cast mentions drop boxes or anything like them,” Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority. “Only the legislature may permit absentee voting via ballot drop boxes.”
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley joined the court’s two other liberals in dissent and said the decision would make it more difficult to cast ballots in the state.
“Although it pays lip service to the import of the right to vote, the majority/lead opinion has the practical effect of making it more difficult to exercise it,” she wrote.
The court, though, did not rule on whether any person other than the voter can cast their own ballot by mail, which means any individual can continue to collect numerous ballots for voters and mail them as opposed to using a drop box.
The practice is known as ballot harvesting and Republicans say it is a practice that is too easily corrupted.
In 2016, before the introduction of drop boxes within Wisconsin’s communities during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Trump won the state in 2016 by a comparable margin against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Following his narrow loss of Wisconsin, Mr. Trump and others in the GOP claimed that drop boxes enabled fraud, but Democratic elections officials countered that the boxes were secure.
The conservative-leaning Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in 2021 over the drop boxes, and the state Supreme Court in February prohibited their use outside election clerk offices in the April election for local offices.
Friday’s ruling answered whether election officials could set up the ballot boxes in other locations, such as libraries and grocery stores.
The decision establishes absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and November elections, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are running for reelection in closely watched races this cycle.
“Regardless of political affiliation, the goal should be to restore confidence in the integrity of our election system. This decision is a big step in the right direction,” Mr. Johnson said.
Absentee voting skyrocketed as an electoral emergency safety measure in states across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Over 40% of Wisconsin voters cast their ballots by mail and at least 500 drop boxes were placed in 430 communities for the election that year, including over a dozen each in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s two most heavily Democratic cities.
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.
• Kerry Picket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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