In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that mail-in ballot boxes are illegal and that voters must mail their ballots or deliver them in person to local clerks.
The four conservative members of the court ruled that the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) gave improper advice when it told local election clerks that drop boxes were a valid way to return an absentee ballot. Despite drop boxes having been used for years, Republicans activated the voting method after the 2020 presidential election – alleging they were vulnerable to fraud as they looked for ways to cast doubt on the election results.
“The record indicates that hundreds of ballot boxes were set up in previous elections, as a result of the memos, and thousands of votes were cast via this illegal method, thereby directly harming Wisconsin voters,” said writes Judge Rebecca Bradley in the majority opinion. . “The illegality of these drop boxes weakens people’s belief that the election produced an outcome that reflects their will. Wisconsin voters, and all legal voters, are harmed when the institution charged with administering Wisconsin elections breaks the law, leaving the results in question.
Bradley, who regularly makes historical comparisons in his opinions, added that for Wisconsin elections to be reliable, voters must believe that the laws are obeyed and that their vote will count.
“If the right to vote is to have any meaning, elections must be conducted according to law,” she wrote. “Throughout history, tyrants have claimed electoral victory through elections conducted in violation of the law. For example, Saddam Hussein was elected in 2002 unanimously by all eligible voters in Iraq (11,445,638 people). Examples of such corruption abound in history. In the 21st century, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was elected in 2014 with 100% of the vote while his father, Kim Jong-il, previously won 99.9% of the vote. Former Cuban President Raul Castro won 99.4% of the vote in 2008 while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was elected with 97.6% of the vote in 2007.
“Even if citizens of these nations are allowed to tick a box on a ballot, they only have a hollow right. Their rulers derive their power from force and fraud, not from the consent of the people. By contrast, in Wisconsin elected ‘deriv[e] their just powers with the consent of the governed,” she wrote. In April, Bradley joined the majority in a 4-3 decision choosing a Republican-crafted legislative redistricting plan that increases their already heavily gerrymandered majority in the state legislature of an equally divided state.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Ann Walsh Bradley wrote that drop boxes are a simple and legal way to make voting easier, especially during a pandemic. She added that the majority of the court has routinely decided to set up roadblocks to voting in the state.
“Although it pays only lip service to the importance of the right to vote, the majority/main opinion has the practical effect of making it more difficult to exercise it,” she wrote. “Such a result, although lamentable, comes as no surprise to this court. He apparently took the opportunity to make voting more difficult or to confuse the process whenever he had the chance.
Drop boxes have already fallen out of use in Wisconsin, following the initial ruling in this case by a Waukesha County Circuit Court judge. In the April elections this year, municipalities put large signs on their drop boxes to make sure voters weren’t accidentally breaking the law.
The court remained silent on a separate issue in the Waukesha County case — whether voters are allowed to ask someone else to cast their absentee ballot for them. Republicans have demonized the practice as “ballot harvesting” or “ballot trafficking,” but disability advocates say many Wisconsin voters would be disenfranchised if they couldn’t. not get help from anyone else because for some reason they are unable to physically put the envelope in a mailbox or get to the local clerk’s office.
Democrats criticized the decision, saying it would hurt people with disabilities and rural voters.
“No matter their politics, those who believe in democracy strive to ensure that every eligible voter can vote,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “With today’s decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is making it harder to vote. It is a slap in the face to democracy itself. We know this decision will impact people with disabilities, older people, people living in rural communities, people with limited means, few transportation options and inflexible work schedules, who are disproportionately young people and people of color.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said the move is yet another example of Republicans attacking state democracy and making it harder to vote.
“A fundamental but defining characteristic of our state and our country is the notion that politicians should not be able to abuse their power to prevent eligible voters from voting or cheating by changing the rules simply because they did not like the outcome of the last election,” he said in a statement. “At the very heart of our democracy is the fundamental right of every eligible voter to be able to vote, a right far too important to be left to the whims of politician or political party. We should work every day to protect this fundamental right by making it as easy as possible for every eligible voter in Wisconsin to vote.”
“Today’s decision is another in a long line of successes by Wisconsin Republicans to make it harder for the people of Wisconsin to exercise their right to vote, to undermine our free, fair and secure elections and to threaten our democracy,” he continued.
The case was brought by two Waukesha County voters who were represented by the right-wing legal organization, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). WILL has worked steadily to add more voting restrictions in Wisconsin and on Friday, its chairman Rick Esenberg celebrated the court’s decision.
“This decision provides substantial clarity on the legal status of mail-in ballot boxes and ballot collection,” Esenberg said in a statement. “While the question of whether an agent can mail an absentee ballot remains open, Wisconsin voters can be confident that state law, not advice from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, has the final word on how the Wisconsin election is being conducted.”
WILL wasn’t the only right-wing group to welcome the court’s decision. The Thomas More Society, which played a major role in advancing the 2020 election conspiracies in Wisconsin, attacked the WEC for its decision to allow drop boxes and alluded to its false allegations of fraud and misconduct.
“This decision only reveals the tip of the iceberg of Wisconsin’s election integrity issues,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal said in a statement. “And the worst part is that everything was coordinated with the blessing of the Wisconsin Election Commission.”
This story first appeared in Wisconsin Examinera publication of the States Newsroom and a sister site of the Minnesota Reformer.