The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that no one can personally submit a ballot on behalf of another voter and that most ballot drop boxes cannot be used. This decision is a setback for Democrats ahead of important elections in this historically competitive state.
Democrats and voting rights organizations had contended that limiting ballot drop boxes would make it more difficult for some citizens, particularly those with disabilities, to cast ballots. While this was going on, Wisconsin’s conservative interests had argued that widespread usage of vote drop boxes and other voting procedures during the 2020 election violated state law and left room for fraud.
Although state law does not specifically mention ballot boxes, the majority of the court stated in its 4-3 decision on Friday that this does not mean that they are legitimate. The precise statutory mechanism for absentee voting does not mention ballot drop boxes, according to Justice Rebecca Bradley.
During the height of the pandemic, the Wisconsin Election Commission, a six-member body that helps oversee voting in the state, issued instructions to local election clerks allowing the use of drop boxes to return absentee ballots for the 2020 election. The majority of the court found that this overstepped the commission’s authority. The court determined that absentee ballots might be left by the voter at the clerk’s office or another specified location, but not at an unattended ballot box.
The court left open the prospect of some third-party ballot collection since they did not address the question of whether someone can send a ballot on another voter’s behalf.
The choice, which establishes the ground rules for this year’s high-stakes elections in Wisconsin, comes about a month before the state’s primary elections on August 9. In a contest that might determine which party controls the US Senate, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democrat Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers are running for re-election. And the outcome of the elections in Wisconsin and a few other key battleground states will probably determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential race.
Evers referred to the choice as “another in a long series of Wisconsin Republicans’ successes to make it tougher for Wisconsinites to exercise their right to vote, to undermine our free, fair, and secure elections, and to harm our democracy” in a statement released on Friday.
The lawsuit challenging drop boxes and gathering votes on behalf of other voters was brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, whose president, Rick Esenberg, said the ruling offers “significant clarification.”
In a statement published on Twitter, he added, “Wisconsin voters may have confidence that state law, not instructions from the (Wisconsin Election Commission), has the last say on how Wisconsin elections are handled.”
After President Joe Biden won the state by a razor-thin margin of fewer than 21,000 votes in 2020, the Wisconsin Election Commission’s guidelines easing voting processes during the pandemic came under harsh criticism, including calls to disband the bipartisan organization from some Wisconsin Republicans.
The use of ballot drop boxes has increased in recent elections in the Badger State: according to statistics cited in Friday’s decision, more than 520 ballot drop boxes were used in the general election of 2020, and that number rose to 570 during spring elections in 2021 across 66 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.