On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that most drop boxes cannot be used by voters to return their absentee ballots, giving the state’s Republicans a significant victory in their campaign to restrict voting access in urban areas.
The conservative majority on the court’s 4-to-3 decision will go into effect in time for Wisconsin’s primaries next month, though its full effects are probably not going to be felt until the general election in November. The reelection campaigns of Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democrat Governor Tony Evers are both anticipated to be extremely close.
In finding that returning an absentee ballot to a municipal clerk “does not mean nor has it been historically understood to mean delivery to an unattended ballot drop box,” Justice Rebecca G. Bradley wrote for the majority that the court adopted a literal interpretation of state law.
Absentee ballots may be returned via mail in accordance with state law, but as Justice Bradley noted, “ballot drop boxes are not mailboxes.”
Since the 2020 election, Wisconsin Republicans and their conservative Supreme Court allies have taken a number of actions to try to reduce the influence of voters on the state’s government.
Recognize the Fight for American Voting Rights
Why is voting rights an issue right now? Due to the pandemic, millions of people, especially Democrats, embraced early voting in person or by mail in 2020. The G.O.P. has pursued a number of new voting restrictions in an effort to rig the election, fueled by Donald Trump’s false claims about mail-in ballots.
What makes these legislative initiatives so crucial? Republicans’ efforts to tighten voting requirements have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the American democratic system. Many of the limitations are likely to have disproportionately negative effects on voters of color.
Which states’ electoral laws have changed? 34 laws limiting voting were passed in 19 states in 2021. Battleground states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida saw the enactment of some of the most important pieces of legislation. In 2022, Republican legislators intend to enact a new set of election laws.
Will the new regulations affect elections? Maybe. possibly not Certain laws will make voting more challenging for certain groups, create confusion, or lengthen lines at the polls. But the new limitations might work against Republicans, particularly in rural areas where mail-in ballots were once more popular.
The court established a “least changes” standard for legislative redistricting in November, which would apply to the partisan gerrymandered 2011 map. Despite the fact that the state is one of the most closely divided in the nation, the decision secured another decade of Republicans holding close to supermajorities in the State Legislature.
Recently, Mr. Johnson-inspired Republican state lawmakers in Wisconsin have sought to seize control of the state’s election management. Leading Republicans running for governor this year have proposed abolishing the G.O.P.-created Wisconsin Elections Commission and giving elected officials control over state elections instead of the commission’s bipartisan members.
In addition, Republicans in the State Assembly have approved a one-year investigation into the 2020 election, which will be led by conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Gableman has advocated for state legislators to try to challenge the results, which is against their constitutional authority.
Additionally, the court’s conservative majority ruled last month that Walker appointees could continue in their positions after their terms ended, provided that Mr. Evers’ replacements were confirmed by the Republican-controlled State Senate, which GOP senators have frequently refused to do.
On Friday, Mr. Evers referred to the court’s most recent ruling as a setback for Wisconsin’s fair elections.
“Politicians shouldn’t be able to abuse their power to disenfranchise eligible voters or cheat by altering the law just because they didn’t like the results of the last election,” he said. “Today’s decision is another in a long line of Wisconsin Republicans’ successes to restrict Wisconsin citizens’ ability to exercise their right to vote, to undermine our free, fair, and secure elections, and to undermine our democracy,” the Wisconsin Republican Party said in a statement.
Before the 2020 election, when about 500 drop boxes were installed across the state, typically outside of public libraries and municipal buildings, municipal clerks who oversee Wisconsin’s elections used drop boxes without incident for years.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission authorized the use of drop boxes to return ballots, but President Donald J. Trump lost the state by about 20,000 votes to Joseph R. Biden Jr. After the election, Mr. Trump’s campaign and supporters filed a number of lawsuits to challenge the validity of the votes cast in the boxes.
The exact number of drop boxes used in Wisconsin in the 2020 election cannot be known. Though this figure includes ballots returned via mail and during early voting in person, about 40% of votes were cast absentee. In Wisconsin, early voting in person was the most popular early voting method prior to the pandemic.
In his Friday opinion, Justice Bradley questioned the validity of previous Wisconsin elections and compared the state’s elections to those that were rigged by dictators in Syria and North Korea.
In her letter, she claimed that “thousands of votes have been cast using this illegal method, directly harming the Wisconsin voters.” “The people’s confidence that the election produced a result representative of their will is weakened by the illegality of these drop boxes. When the organization responsible for overseeing Wisconsin elections breaks the law, it harms Wisconsin voters as well as all lawful voters, and the results become suspect.
The decision will draw more attention to the election that will decide who controls the court next year.
Conservative justice Patience Roggensack, who has served on the bench since 2003, is not running for re-election. State’s top Democrats have banded together to support Everett Mitchell, a judge in Madison-area Dane County. One of the three liberal judges on the court, Justice Rebecca Dallet, supported Janet Protasiewicz, a judge for Milwaukee County.
Conservative former justice Daniel Kelly, who was appointed by Mr. Walker and unsuccessfully ran for re-election to the court in 2020, has indicated that he is thinking about running. In a primary held in February, the top two finishers will move on to the general election held in April.
Legislation explicitly allowing drop boxes is extremely unlikely to be passed by Republicans, who currently control the Wisconsin Legislature. According to Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, drop boxes should only be permitted inside municipal clerk’s offices during regular business hours.
In an interview at his office in Madison’s State Capitol, he asked, “Should we have drop boxes everywhere where someone could just go in without any security?” “I don’t believe that is correct,”