MADISON – 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, coming four weeks before statewide primaries Aug. 9, 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 reelection loss in 2020.
Writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Bradley said state law does not permit drop boxes anywhere other than election clerk offices and only state lawmakers may make new policy stating otherwise — not the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which issued guidance to clerks allowing them.
“WEC’s staff may have been trying to make voting as easy as possible during the pandemic, but whatever their motivations, WEC must follow Wisconsin statutes. Good intentions never override the law,” Bradley wrote.
Hundreds of absentee drop boxes were installed across the state in 2020 to help voters cast their ballots without interacting with other people. More than 40% of all votes cast that year were through absentee ballots.
Republicans began scrutinizing their use as Trump launched a baseless campaign against absentee voting ahead of his election loss that continues today. GOP candidates for governor and U.S. Senate who have proposed to overhaul the state’s election system in the wake of Trump’s false claims, lauded the Friday ruling.
“Regardless of political affiliation, the goal should be to restore confidence in the integrity of our election system. This decision is a big step in the right direction,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh who is up for reelection this year, said in a statement.
The majority opinion of the 114-page ruling quotes William Shakespeare and hip-hop artist Kanye West to make the case that the state elections commission overstepped its bounds.
“No one man should have all that power,” Bradley wrote, quoting West’s lead single for his 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
Bradley also suggests the ruling will prevent Wisconsin elections from becoming the rigged contests found in totalitarian regimes like Iraq, Cuba, Syria and North Korea.