Wisconsin Supreme Court disallows absentee ballot drop boxes

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) — Absentee voters can only return their ballot by mail or at their local clerk's office after the State Supreme Court ruled drop boxes are illegal in Wisconsin.

The court's 4-3 ruling is a win for conservatives who have long argued there is no state law that permits the use of unstaffed drop boxes, handing Democrats a defeat.

"I think this ruling went a long way toward clarifying the law," said Rick Essenberg, president and general counsel for Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Justices opted not to decide whether voters can give their absentee ballot to someone else to return for them by mail, instead of a drop box. This means for now, voters can collect multiple ballots for others and place them in the mail, often referred to as ballot harvesting, which is widely opposed by Republicans.

It's a practice that individuals with disabilities rely on as many are unable to place their ballot in the mail without assistance from a caregiver or family member.

Disability Rights Wisconsin said they are content the high court didn't address this issue which maintains protections under the federal Voting Rights Act, but they oppose the decision to ban drop boxes.

"The positive news is that we have federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities," said Barbara Becket, director of advocacy for Disability Rights Wisconsin. "It's disappointing always to see that something that allows more people to participate in our democracy to safely and securely cast a ballot and to have that taken away is really unfortunate."

During the pandemic, drop boxes became a popular choice among voters who didn't feel comfortable voting in-person out of fear of possibly contracting the virus.

Governor Tony Evers called the ruling another Republican attack to "make it harder for Wisconsinites to exercise their right to vote, to undermine our free, fair and secure elections, and to threaten our democracy.”

Democrats believe drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can’t be lost or delayed in transit.

Meanwhile, Republicans argue it's reverting back to voting laws that were in place pre-pandemic when drop boxes were not an option.

"We didn't have drop boxes, we didn't have early voting, we didn't have mail-in voting for many years and we still had democracy,' Essenberg said. "We are retaining almost all of that and the only thing we are saying now is if we're going to have drop boxes they have to be specified by the legislature and there has to be rules governing their use."

The decision sets absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and the fall election; Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are seeking re-election in key races.

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