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Wisconsin Counts Ballots On Election Day Amid Tight Presidential Race
Election officials count absentee ballots at a polling place located in the Town of Beloit fire station on November 3, 2020 near Beloit, Wisc.Scott Olson / Getty Images, file

Conservative justices in Wisconsin reject ballot drop boxes

Wisconsin's democracy was already in dire straits. A state Supreme Court ruling against ballot drop boxes won't help matters.


It’s never been altogether clear why, exactly, Republicans grew to hate ballot drop boxes. They’re simply a matter of convenience: Many areas allow Americans to slip completed ballots into a secure box whenever they have the time.

At some point in recent years, however, Donald Trump convinced himself that drop boxes are a scourge on society. Nefarious schemers, the Republican insisted, “stuff” the boxes with illegitimate ballots, creating fraudulent results.

The claims have never made any sense, and there’s no evidence of any such thing happening in the United States, but GOP officials, candidates, and voters nevertheless became fixated on the boxes. In fact, in Wisconsin, Republicans and their conservative allies made the case that the boxes are illegal and shouldn’t exist at all.

This morning, as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, their ideological allies on the state Supreme Court agreed.

Voters casting absentee ballots this fall for the highest state offices won’t be able to return their ballots in upcoming elections by using drop boxes following a ruling Friday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority. The 4-3 ruling is a win for Republicans who now oppose the longstanding use of ballot drop boxes after their use proliferated during the coronavirus pandemic and was heavily criticized by former President Donald Trump, who alleged with no evidence that absentee voting was rife with fraud and led to his re-election loss in 2020.

It’s worth emphasizing for context that in Wisconsin, state Supreme Court elections are technically non-partisan, but it’s painfully obvious which judicial candidates enjoy which parties’ backing — and in this case, it was the Republican-allied justices who sided with the Republican-allied plaintiffs against the drop boxes.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, writing for the minority, said the majority’s ruling “blithely and erroneously seeks to sow distrust in the administration of our elections and through its faulty analysis erects yet another barrier for voters to exercise this ‘sacred right.’”

Bradley added, “Although it pays lip service to the import of the right to vote, the majority/lead opinion has the practical effect of making it more difficult to exercise it. Such a result, although lamentable, is not a surprise from this court. It has seemingly taken the opportunity to make it harder to vote or to inject confusion into the process whenever it has been presented with the opportunity.”

To be sure, absentee balloting still exists in Wisconsin, but in the wake of today’s ruling, voters will have to mail those ballots or return them in person, during office hours, to local clerks.

Or put another way, the new system will be less convenient and offer Wisconsin voters fewer options — which appears to have been the point of the legal dispute in the first place.

Democracy in Wisconsin was already in dire straits. This won’t help.