Ballot box drop challenge asks Wisconsin Supreme Court to rule

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to shut down absentee ballot drop boxes. The group filed an emergency appeal on Wednesday, Jan. 26 – asking the court to act as soon as possible.

The court responded by asking the other parties to respond Thursday on whether the justices should pick up the case. 

It the latest in a legal battle over drop boxes.

On Jan. 13, a Waukesha County judge ruled drop boxes broke Wisconsin law – which says of absentee ballots, "The envelope shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk."

This Monday, a Wisconsin appeals court put that ruling on hold, thus reinstating drop boxes. Now, WILL, a conservative law firm, asks the state's highest court to close them.

"We have an election underway. And the question in this case is about whether elections will be conducted in accordance with state law or with different rules that the commission has adopted unilaterally," said Luke Berg of WILL.

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"While we're so close to the Feb. 15 election, really an election of significant consequence. The people in Milwaukee have one of the most contested mayoral primaries in a generation coming up. To throw these methods into confusion at this moment just doesn't make practical sense for the voters. And it certainly doesn't make sense under the Constitution," said Scott Thompson of Law Forward.

Thompson, of the progressive law firm, defends ballot drop boxes.

"Many voters have already voted, they've cast their ballots one way or another," Thompson said. "Any change before the election would mean that we're changing the rules of the game after it started. And that's just not fair. And frankly, the Constitution and the Supreme Court says that it's against the law."

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"I just don't think that there is going to be much confusion here. There is a very simple fix…clerks can notify voters, they can post signs on drop boxes, and anybody who doesn't hear about the notice can see those signs and immediately drop their ballot in the mail. So, I just don't think there is a real risk of confusion. I don't think this would be hard to make a change mid-process," Berg said.

In 2020, a lawyer representing Wisconsin's Republican legislative leaders said they "wholeheartedly support" options like "…voters may also deposit their completed absentee ballots in authorized ‘drop boxes,’ which ‘must be secured and locked at all times’ to protect ballot integrity."

But this week, former President Donald Trump said, "Some RINO [Republican in Name Only] Republicans in Wisconsin are working hand in hand with others to have drop boxes again placed in Wisconsin. These fools are playing right into the Democrats’ hand. Drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans."

At a news conference afterward, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would not answer a drop box question.

"I'm going to focus today on talking about what we're doing with law enforcement," Vos said. 

Upon further questioning, Vos responded, "Our attorney at the time was focused on saying there are lots of ways you can vote. You can vote in person, you can vote absentee. You can vote the clerk's office, you can vote by mail, you certainly didn't need to have any kind of a ballot harvesting department."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not said if it will hear the case. For now, the drop boxes stay open.

The group fighting drop boxes tells the Wisconsin Supreme Court any ballots cast in the meantime should still count. 

The Wisconsin Election Commission stands by drop boxes. In 2020, the state housed more than 500.


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