On Wednesday, Wisconsin Supreme Court justices raised doubts about whether state law allows voters to provide their absentee votes to a third party to return or if ballot dropboxes may be put outside city clerk offices. According to The Associated Press, the state high court’s decision, which is due in late spring or early summer, will set rules for the 2017 midterm election, which will include races for Wisconsin’s Democratic governor and a Republican U.S. senator.
Skeptical Wisconsin Supreme Court justices questioned whether state law allowed voters to transfer their absentee ballot to someone else to return or if drop boxes may be put outside municipal clerk offices, according to the Associated Press. The court’s decision is likely sometime this spring or summer, and it will set the rules for the 2018 midterm election, in which the battleground state’s Democratic governor and Republican senator are on the ballot.
The use of drop boxes outside election clerk offices was prohibited by the court in February for the April spring election, in which municipal seats such as mayor, city council, and school board were determined. The bigger question the court hasn’t answered is whether secure voting boxes should be allowed in locations like libraries and grocery shops.
Following President Joe Biden’s narrow victory against Donald Trump by just under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin in 2020, Republicans are pushing to curtail access to absentee ballots. In November, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson are up for re-election.
The nonpartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission has instructed local election officials that drop boxes can be put in numerous places and that votes can be returned by persons other than the voter.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who occasionally joins the court’s liberal majority, focused on what it means to deliver a ballot and whether the law’s phrasing allows someone other than the voter to return it on Wednesday.
"*" indicates required fields
“Have I broken the law if I mail an absentee ballot and my wife takes the three steps to place it in the mailbox?” Hagedorn enquired. “Do we have to make a decision on that?”
That question, according to Rick Esenberg, head of the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which filed the complaint, needed to be addressed. In response to questions, Esenberg stated that he did not believe it would be legal to hand a ballot to a family member within feet of a mailbox and have that person drop it in.
Hagedorn also inquired about whether a ballot would be presented “in person” if a voter had it delivered by a political party representative. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee’s counsel, Charles Curtis, believes it would be lawful as long as the ballot was not tampered with.
Justice Rebecca Bradley, a conservative, appeared to be skeptical that the statute would enable anybody other than the voter to return an absentee ballot. People with disabilities and others claim that not allowing someone other than the voter to return a ballot makes it more difficult for voters with restricted mobility or other physical limitations to participate. Martha Chambers, a Milwaukee voter who has been crippled for 27 years due to a horseback riding accident, said she won’t be able to vote if she isn’t permitted to deliver her ballot to someone else.
“I literally can’t put my ballot in a mailbox,” she stated at a press conference hosted by Law Forward, the law firm that is defending Disability Rights Wisconsin in the case. “I won’t be able to give it to a mail carrier.” I don’t have the option of driving my chair to the post office by opening the door of my house. It’s simply not doable.” Hagedorn also questioned whether or not an absentee ballot drop box could be put in a lawful location. “I believe it is critical that we define this precisely rather than broadly,” he stated.
For the February primary, Hagedorn agreed with liberals and put on hold a lower court’s judgment prohibiting drop boxes outside clerk offices. In February, however, Hagedorn reversed himself and joined the conservative majority in upholding the lower court’s decision, which had placed the ban in place for the April election and beyond, pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
In the meanwhile, the elections commission has revoked its advice pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Last year, Wisconsin’s chief elections official testified that more than 430 towns utilized at least 528 drop boxes in the presidential election. During the epidemic in 2020, the popularity of absentee voting skyrocketed, with more over 40% of all voters casting mail votes, a new high.
The Wisconsin Legislature’s Republican majority has attempted to implement rules restricting the use of absentee ballots, but Evers has vetoed them. Since Trump’s defeat, Republicans have taken similar steps to restrict access to the polls in other crucial states. The limits specifically target popular voting methods, imposing barriers to postal balloting and early voting, which witnessed tremendous increase earlier in the pandemic.