Ballots not allowed in Wisconsin, state Supreme Court rules

Madison, Wes. – The divided Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the use of most ballot boxes Friday and ruled voters not to award completed absentee ballots to others to return on their behalf, A practice that some conservatives dismiss as “ballot harvesting”.

It’s a ruling that voting rights advocates fear, who earlier said such a decision would make it difficult for voters – especially those with disabilities – to return absentee ballots. Many Republicans had hoped for a ruling that they said would help prevent anyone from casting a vote on someone else’s name.

The 4-3 ruling came a month before the state’s decision. 9 primaries, when voters narrow the field to the governor and US senators. Both rivalries in this combative nation are closely watched nationwide.

For years, ballot boxes have been used without controversy throughout Wisconsin. Election staff greatly expanded their use in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic as absentee voting reached unprecedented levels.

By the time of the presidential election, there were more than 500 ballot boxes across Wisconsin. Some Republicans have refrained from using them, citing state law that states that absentee ballots must be “mailed by the voter or delivered in person to the municipal clerk who issues the ballot or ballots.”

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that this means voters must return absentee ballots and cannot use the ballot boxes.

Judge Rebecca Bradley wrote to the majority: “The key phrase is ‘person’ and its natural meaning must be attributed.”

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In dissent, Justice Anne Walsh Bradley called the majority “dangerous to democracy.”

“She appears to have taken the opportunity to make voting more difficult or to introduce confusion into the process whenever she had the opportunity,” she wrote.

Two of the Bradleys are not related in court.

The majority opinion unequivocally stated that “ballot boxes are illegal under the laws of the State of Wisconsin” without distinguishing between employees and unstaffed ones. The defectors said they considered the matter unresolved because the lower court found that the boxes in which there were employees and in the clerk’s offices could be used.

The case began last year when the conservative Wisconsin Law and Liberty Institute sued over the use of drop boxes on behalf of two men from suburban Milwaukee. State law does not mention ballot boxes and the lawsuit has argued their use “It raises doubts about the integrity of the elections and undermines the confidence of voters in the electoral process,” and that the two men “are entitled to conduct the elections in which they participate properly under the law.”

State election officials and disability advocates who intervened in the case defended the use of ballot boxes, saying they offered a way for voters to return ballots in person. In addition, they argued, there is nothing in state law to prevent voters from having their spouse, friend, or other person hand their completed ballot to a clerk so that it can be counted.

In January, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ruled in favor of those who filed the lawsuit. He concluded that state law did not allow unoccupied ballot boxes and required absentee voters to return their ballots in person or put them in the mailboxes themselves.

The state Supreme Court blocked Boren’s order to hold the judges and school board primaries in February because they were getting close so quickly. But judges blocked the use of suspended boxes in those offices’ general elections in April.

On Friday, the court sided with the lower court and issued a more permanent ruling that would affect future elections, starting with the primaries next month. Clerks began mailing absentee ballots last month.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia allow ballot boxes, according to the American Voting Foundation. 31 states have laws that allow voters to revoke someone else’s vote on their behalf, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some of those states allow voters to assign whomever they want to the role, while others limit it to family members or caregivers.

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Wisconsin law states that no person may “receive a ballot paper or ballot for a person other than the election official.” Those who brought the lawsuit argued that the policy should be strictly followed, meaning that it would be illegal for someone to drop the ballot papers of their elderly parents on their behalf or for church members to collect ballots after a service and then take them to a clerk’s office.

The majority agreed with this assessment.

Republicans were more concerned about large-scale vote-gathering efforts by partisan actors. While some have engaged in the practice in other states, neither side deployed extensive ballot-collection operations in Wisconsin in 2020, when Joe Biden narrowly defeated President Donald Trump in the state.

The lower court ruled that ballots returned by mail can only be placed in mailboxes by voters themselves – a finding that has alarmed advocates for the disabled because some voters cannot physically reach the ballot box or put their ballots in the mail.

The Supreme Court did not go further, saying for the time being that it would not address whether a voter could have someone else put a ballot paper in the mail.

Rick Isenberg, president of the group behind the lawsuit, said in a statement that the ruling “provides substantive clarity about the legal status of absentee ballots and ballot harvesting.”

The decision came along ideological grounds, with judges elected with the support of Republicans by a majority and judges elected with support from opposition Democrats.

Both sides have been closely watching Judge Brian Heydorn, who won the 2019 race with the help of Republicans, but in a series of high-profile cases, he has sided with the three Liberals on the court.

Hagedorn signed off on much of Bradley’s decision, giving the Conservatives the four votes they needed to gain a majority.

In a favorable opinion, Heydorn urged lawmakers to clarify state election laws, some of which were first enacted more than a century ago.

“Some citizens will cheer this result. He wrote of the majority decision. But Wisconsinans must remember that judicial decision-making and policy differ under our constitutional system. Our obligation is to follow the law, which may mean that the outcome of the policy is unpopular or unpopular.” However, we must follow the law anyway.”

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