Wisconsin absentee ballot drop box fight

Wisconsin could play a pivotal role in the control of Congress. On Tuesday, July 13, the official Democratic senators' campaign group filed court papers in support of Wisconsin's absentee ballot drop boxes. At the same time, former President Donald Trump filed a response in a different case. 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission encouraged absentee ballot drop boxes in 2020, amid the pandemic. The state housed more than 500 – including 15 in Milwaukee.

"Right now in reading our state statutes, drop boxes aren’t legal," said State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville).

Republicans cite Wisconsin statute § 6.87(4)(b)1. It says of absentee ballots: "The envelope shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots."

Conservative Law Firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) on behalf of two Waukesha County voters says, "But a drop box is not the ‘municipal clerk.’ It is an unsupervised, inanimate object."

Ballot drop box

"Wisconsin voters deserve certainty that elections are conducted fairly and in accordance with state law," WILL's Rick Esenberg said. "But the Wisconsin Elections Commission is giving advice to clerks that is contrary to the law, putting the ballots of countless voters at risk."

"Anyone who wants all eligible voters to make their voices heard should be concerned about these repeated attacks on voting in Wisconsin," said Mel Barnes of Law Forward.

Now, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is asking a Waukesha County judge to let them enter the case. It is part of their "Defend the Vote" program. They bring up a 2020 letter from a lawyer representing Wisconsin's Republican legislative leaders Speaker Robin Vos and then-Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The lawyer said the leaders "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."

The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Government file photo)

The U.S. Senate Democrats committee also point to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch who wrote favorably of the state's absentee drop boxes: "Returning an absentee ballot in Wisconsin is also easy. ... Until election day, voters may, for example, hand-deliver their absentee ballots to the municipal clerk’s office or other designated site, or they may place their absentee ballots in a secure absentee ballot drop box. Some absentee ballot drop boxes are located outdoors, either for drive-through or walk-up access, and some are indoors at a location like a municipal clerk’s office."

Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is not up for reelection in 2022, writes: "This is a critical and important step as we work to protect your right to participate in our democracy and fight back against Wisconsin GOP's tactics to restrict voting in the Badger State."

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While the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asks for a ruling ahead of the 2022 election, telling the judge Wisconsin law only gives two options: to return an absentee ballot by mail or to hand it over in person to the clerk. "Allowing WEC [the Wisconsin Elections Commission] to administer the 2022 elections in a manner other than that required by law causes doubts about the fairness of the elections and erodes voter confidence in the electoral process."

This case is working its way through Waukesha Circuit Court this summer. That could determine if absentee ballot drop boxes are still utilized when you decide in 2022.

In a different case, Gov. Tony Evers and others want former President Trump to pay their attorney fees for Trump's election challenges. The former president's lawyers just filed papers in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, based in Milwaukee. The lawyers argue the American rule is each person covers their own legal fees unless the other side acted in bad faith – and they say Trump did not.

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