Wisconsin high court rules absentee drop boxes can be used in November

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that absentee drop boxes can be used ahead of the November election, reversing a previous 2022 ruling and delivering a win for Democrats. 

In a 4-3 decision, the liberal-majority court ruled that dropping off an absentee ballot did constitute as returning it to a “municipal clerk,” reversing itself from its previous decision made by the then-conservative majority court arguing that it could be dropped off only at election offices.  

“By mandating that an absentee ballot be returned not to the ‘municipal clerk’s office,’ but ‘to the municipal clerk,’ the legislature disclaimed the idea that the ballot must be delivered to a specific location and instead embraced delivery of an absentee ballot to a person — the ‘municipal clerk,’” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, writing for the majority, said.  

“Given this, the question then becomes whether delivery to a drop box constitutes delivery ‘to the municipal clerk,'” Bradley continued.  

“We conclude that it does. A drop box is set up, maintained, secured, and emptied by the municipal clerk. This is the case even if the drop box is in a location other than the municipal clerk’s office,” the majority opinion said. “As analyzed, the statute does not specify a location to which a ballot must be returned and requires only that the ballot be delivered to a location the municipal clerk, within his or her discretion, designates.” 

The decision by the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court is a blow to Republicans in the state. Absentee drop boxes became more popularly used during the COVID-19 pandemic, though Trump and some members of his party have baselessly claimed that it’s susceptible to fraud.   

The decision in Wisconsin is particularly notable given that the state narrowly went for Biden in 2020 by less than a percentage point.  

Wisconsin Democrats cheered the ruling in a statement. 

“Today’s ruling affirms a basic principle: a democracy, we should make it easier for eligible voters to cast a ballot—not impose barriers based on conspiracy theories,” said Ben Wikler, state party chair. “By restoring access to safe and secure ballot drop boxes, the Court has ensured voters in communities across Wisconsin—cities big and small, in red areas and blue areas—are able to exercise their right to vote in a way that works for them.” 

The ruling comes more than a year since the state’s high court flipped from a conservative majority to a liberal one when Justice Janet Protasiewicz won a special election for a vacant seat on the bench.

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