In 2020, Madison was one of 5 major cities to install absentee ballot dropboxes during the pandemic. Costing about $53,000 a piece, the dropboxes were installed at fire stations across the city to make voting more accessible for everyone.
Denise Jess is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“Voting is very difficult. So when we choose to vote in person at our polls we often experience transportation barriers in getting to those polls. We experience accessibility issues once we’re in the polling place with equipment failures or not having the proper assistance to cast a ballot or not having access to curbside voting.”
Jess had more to say.
“So things like dropboxes and the ability to hand my ballot to someone that I trust to deliver to the clerk’s office on my behalf or my polling place on my behalf are two really important things that decrease some of those barriers and allow qualified voters to cast their ballots.”
During the November 2020 election, Wisconsin had one of the highest turnout rates in the nation, at about 75.5%, according to a Pew Research report. But it is unclear exactly how much ballot dropboxes contributed to those numbers. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said this:
“I don’t have a specific number for November 2020 but it is hundreds if not thousands that came through our dropboxes citywide.”
Last Friday, the Wisconsin supreme court ruled that ballot dropboxes would not be allowed for the upcoming April election. Their decision comes while a full ruling on the legality of dropboxes is pending.
That ruling impacts voters-of-color across the state. The Mayor’s office says that 47% of all voters-of-color in Wisconsin are in the 5 cities that added ballot boxes in 2020.
Here’s Reverend Doctor Marcus Allen Senior of Mt. Zion Baptist Church
“Removing these dropboxes would add to the continued attempt of suppression of the voice of citizens in the state. I would ask the courts to allow these dropboxes to remain because they have contributed to the increase of more voters voting in our state.”
The lawsuit that brought this rule-change was filed by the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty, or WILL, a conservative legal firm. At a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Rhodes-Conway was direct in calling out the court’s decision, describing it as a coordinated attack on democracy and a clear attempt to keep people from voting.
But what will the city do if the state’s highest court decides that these boxes are unlawful? Again, Mayor Rhodes-Conway.
“We are certainly not going to do anything before the final ruling from the supreme court. But the way I feel about it is you can pry these dropboxes out of my cold, dead hands.”
For W-O-R-T news, I’m Heron Splinter.