Absentee ballot drop boxes will not be permitted in Wisconsin, according to a ruling issued Friday by a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court. The majority decision was documented by Justice Rebecca Bradley and then signed by the rest of the court’s conservative majority, including Justice Brian Hagedorn.
The State Supreme Court’s decisions entail that absentee voting in Wisconsin’s 2022 election and beyond will be less convenient than it was two years ago, when it was at an all-time high due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The court’s conservative majority also ruled that it is illegal for someone else to return a voter’s completed absentee ballot to the clerk’s office, such as a spouse or roommate. That task must be completed by the voter personally.
The percentage of drop boxes in Wisconsin increased dramatically in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic made voting difficult as residents sought ways to avoid in-person voting. In the November 2020 election, nearly 2 million residents voted absentee. While many people voted absentee by mail, drop boxes were advertised as an option for those who were concerned about potential postal service delays.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, there were 528 drop boxes in use across 430 municipalities in the 2020 presidential election.
Local officials reported a total of 570 drop boxes spread across 66 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties by the spring of 2021.
Law Forward, which objected to the lawsuit, indicated that the ruling would end up making absentee voting quite challenging. “Decisions like today are a reminder that Wisconsin’s long standing reputation of being a laboratory of democracy is the type of reputation that is hard to earn and can be easily lost,” said Law Forward attorney Scott Thompson.
Rebecca Kleefisch and Tim Michels, both candidates for governor, issued statements congratulating the decision. Both have supported a number of election law changes, including the abolition of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
According to Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, the ruling will make it more difficult to vote, stating that, “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,”
Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature also passed a bill this session that would have limited who could mail another person’s ballot. The proposal was vetoed by Governor Evers.