The Wisconsin Supreme Court prohibits the use of most drop boxes to vote

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday banned the use of most ballot boxes for voters to return absentee ballots, giving the state’s Republicans a big win in their efforts to limit access to urban voting.

The 4-to-3 decision by the court’s conservative majority will go into effect in Wisconsin’s primary next month, though its true impact likely won’t be seen until the general election in November. Government. Democrat Tony Evers and Republican Senator Ron Johnson face what are expected to be very close re-election bids.

The Court adopted a literal interpretation of state law, finding that returning the absentee ballot to the Municipal Clerk, as Justice Rebecca J. Bradley wrote to the majority, “does not mean and is not historically understood to mean surrendering to the dropping of the unattended ballot boxes.”

While state law allows absentee ballots to be returned by mail, Judge Bradley wrote, “However, ballot boxes are not mailboxes.”

Wisconsin Republicans and their conservative allies on the state Supreme Court have taken a range of steps since the 2020 election to try to reduce the influence of voters on the state government.

In November, the court established a “least changes” criterion for legislative redistricting that would apply to the manipulated 2011 map drawn by Republicans. The move was shut down in another decade for nearly a vast Republican majority in the state legislature, even though the state is among the most divided in the country.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, motivated by Mr. Johnson, recently sought control of the state’s election administration. Leading Republican candidates for governor this year have proposed abolishing the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission — created by Republican lawmakers and the former governor. Scott Walker, Republican – and given elected officials the power to oversee state elections.

State Assembly Republicans have also authorized what is now a year-long investigation into the 2020 election overseen by Michael Gabelman, a former conservative state Supreme Court justice, who has suggested state lawmakers seek to de-certify the results — something they don’t have. authority to do.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority also ruled last month that Walker appointees could remain in office after their terms expired until the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed the alternatives chosen by Mr. Evers – which Republican senators have often rejected.

on friday, mr. Evers called the court’s latest decision a blow to a fair election in Wisconsin.

“Politicians should not be able to use their power to prevent eligible voters from casting ballots or cheating by changing the rules simply because they did not like the result of the last election,” he said. “Today’s decision is another in a long line of Wisconsin Republican successes to make it difficult for Wisconsinans to exercise their right to vote, undermine our free, fair, and secure elections, and threaten our democracy.”

Municipal clerks overseeing Wisconsin elections used drop boxes for years without controversy before the 2020 election, when there were about 500 employees across the state, usually outside public libraries and municipal buildings.

After the election, which President Donald J. Trump lost in Wisconsin to Joseph R. Biden, Jr. By about 20,000 votes, Mr. The Trump campaign and his supporters have filed a raft of lawsuits seeking to invalidate votes cast in drop boxes because the method of returning ballots was not explicitly permitted under state law — even though the Wisconsin Elections Commission authorized it.

It is not possible to accurately determine how many Wisconsin votes were cast in drop boxes in 2020. About 40 percent of votes were cast absenteeism, although this number includes ballots returned by mail and during early in-person voting. Before the pandemic, in-person polling was the dominant way to vote before Election Day in Wisconsin.

In Friday’s opinion, Judge Bradley compared Wisconsin’s elections to contests rigged by dictators in Syria and North Korea and questioned whether previous elections in the state were legitimate.

“Thousands of votes were cast in this illegal manner, directly harming voters in Wisconsin,” she wrote. “The illegitimacy of these funds weakens people’s belief that the elections produced an outcome that reflected their will. Wisconsin voters and all legitimate voters are injured when the institution charged with administering Wisconsin elections does not follow the law, leaving results in question.”

The ruling will focus more attention on next year’s elections that will determine control of the court.

Judge Patience Rojinsak, a conservative who has sat on the podium since 2003, is not seeking re-election. The state’s top Democrats have rallied behind Everett Mitchell, a judge in Dunne County, which includes Madison. Milwaukee District Judge Janet Protacevic was approved by Judge Rebecca Dalit, one of the court’s three liberals.

Former Judge Daniel Kelly, a governor appointed by Mr. Walker lost re-election to the court in 2020, and has said he is considering entering the race. The top two candidates in the primaries in February will advance to a general election in April.

The Republicans who control the Wisconsin legislature are unlikely to enact legislation to allow drop boxes. Robin Voss, a strong speaker for the Wisconsin Assembly, said in September that hanging boxes should be allowed inside the clerk’s office only during normal business hours.

“Should we put boxes everywhere where anyone can enter without security?” He said in an interview in his office in the State Capitol in Madison. “I don’t think that’s true.”

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