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Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal. They said they can only be placed in election offices and no one other than the other can return a ballot in person.
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This is a win for election integrity and combats ballot harvesting.
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 Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state by a similar margin.
The popularity of absentee voting exploded during the pandemic in 2020, with more than 40 percent of all voters casting mail ballots, a record high. At least 500 drop boxes were set up in more than 430 communities for the election that year, including more than a dozen each in Madison and Milwaukee — the state’s two most heavily Democratic cities.
The Associated Press added:
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.
The court said absentee ballots can be returned only to the clerk’s office or a designated alternative site but that site cannot be an unstaffed drop box. The bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission had told local election officials the boxes can be placed at multiple locations and that ballots can be returned by people other than the voter, but put that on hold pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative law firm that brought the case, said the ruling “provides substantial clarity on the legal status of absentee ballot drop boxes and ballot harvesting.” He said it also makes clear that state law, not guidance from the Elections Commission, is the final word on how elections are run.
Concerns about the safety of drop boxes expressed by the majority “is downright dangerous to our democracy” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in the dissent.
In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Brian Hagedorn said the case “was not about ensuring everyone who wants to vote can, nor should we be concerned with making absentee voting more convenient and secure.”
“Those are policy concerns, and where the law does not speak, they are the business of the other branches, not the judicial branch,” he wrote.
“Our obligation is to follow the law, which may mean the policy result is undesirable or unpopular. Even so, we must follow the law anyway. To the extent the citizens of Wisconsin wish the law were different, the main remedy is to vote and persuade elected officials to enact different laws. This is the hard work of democracy.”
This is another win for election integrity.