On Friday, the state Supreme Court ruled that drop boxes for absentee ballots are illegal.
The boxes were used prominently during the 2020 presidential election, particularly here in Madison, which installed fourteen drop boxes across the city.
The court, which ruled 4-3 on party lines, said that all absentee ballots must be returned to municipal clerks either in-person or by mail, and that drop boxes are not stipulated under Wisconsin statute.
The case was brought forward by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, on behalf of two Milwaukee area voters.
Also included in Friday’s ruling is conditions deciding who can specifically hand in an absentee ballot. Under the ruling, if the ballot is handed over to a municipal clerk, the voter themselves must be the one to hand over the ballot.
Scott Thompson is part of the staff council at Law Forward, the nonprofit law firm representing voting advocates in the case. He says that the ruling gets murky when it comes to who can place a ballot in the mailbox.
“The court could not find a majority to affirm the lower court’s ruling on the mailing question. It specifically left open the question as to whether or not someone can place someone else’s ballot into the mail. But it did give us an answer on bringing it back to the clerk’s office, it determined that only the actual voter can return their own ballot, so no longer can we help our friends, our family members, our neighbors by bringing the ballots back to the clerk’s office at a convenient time. This is now a new step that will make it harder for people to bring their ballots back,” Thompson says.
Thompson then says that, while the ruling made rules about who can return a ballot to clerks, the court used very specific wording in their opinion.
“It’s also really important for folks to understand what this case did not do. It did not remove, alter, or in any way contradict federal protections for voters with disabilities. A lot of people use someone else to return their ballots because they need to, and those voters should still enjoy the very strong protections of federal law, which means that if they need an accommodation to get their ballot back the the municipal clerk’s office, they have a federal right to that accommodation, and clerks across the state are still going to have to honor that,” Thompson says.
Barbara Becket, with Disability Rights Wisconsin, agrees with Thompson. She says that, for disabled folks here in Wisconsin, they do still have options.
“In terms of having their ballot delivered to their polling place, our recommendation is that they contact their municipal clerk and say to them ‘I’m a person with a disability, for that reason I need assistance with having my ballot delivered. I’ve asked a person of my choice to deliver my ballot, and I am requesting a disability related accommodation because I need the assistance due to my disability,’” Beckett says
Beckett says that, under federal law, disabled voters are still able to hand their ballot to a person of their own choosing to deliver their ballot to the mailbox.
Thompson also states that the ruling itself includes dangerous language outside the realm of just absentee voting. In judge Rebecca Brandley’s concurring opinion, she said that, in light of this ruling, she encourages the court to revisit the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“Make no mistake, that was their goal with this lawsuit. They wanted to make it harder for people to vote and they wanted to give legs to this big lie that they’ve been touting for years. This decision is clearly aligned with that effort,” Thompson says.
In her decision, Bradley quoted Kanye West, saying “No one man should have all that power” when it comes to deciding election procedures.
With the ruling, former president Donald Trump is now calling for the 2020 presidential election to be re-examined here in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Trump took to Truth Social, his social media platform, calling for votes cast via the drop boxes to be nullified.
Representatives from WILL could not be reached for comment by airtime. WILL President Rick Esenberg said in a statement that Wisconsin voters can have confidence that state law now has the final word on how Wisconsin elections are conducted.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT News