Wisconsin high court won't take challenge over ballot boxes

Ballot drop box

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday rejected Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch's request that it take her lawsuit challenging guidance over absentee ballot boxes, an issue the court is already considering in another case.

The fight is being closely watched in battleground Wisconsin as Republicans there push to limit access to absentee ballots following President Joe Biden’s narrow win over Donald Trump in 2020. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are on the ballot in November.

The state Supreme Court's three liberal justices were joined by conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn, who sometimes sides with the liberals, in declining to take Kleefisch's case. The majority did not give a reason for not taking the case before it has worked its way through lower courts.

The court in June also refused to take another legal challenge to ballot boxes before lower courts had heard the case, which was brought by a conservative business owner.

Kleefisch, who served eight years as lieutenant governor under Scott Walker, vowed to fight on.

"It is a truly sad day when our state’s highest court refuses to uphold the law," Kleefisch tweeted. "I am committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections and making sure our laws are followed because clearly no one else will. To be continued."

Justice Patience Roggensack, one of the three dissenting justices, argued that the court should have taken the case "because Wisconsin voters deserve elections conducted in a manner that we have reviewed and approved."

She accused the majority of sidestepping its "obligation to hear the continuing cry of Wisconsin voters and address absentee ballot issues."

Wisconsin law is silent on drop boxes, but the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission has told local election officials they can be placed at multiple locations. The commission failed to reach a consensus last week on how to handle Republican lawmakers’ demands that they either withdraw that guidance or quickly publish formal rules that the Legislature could then block.

The Supreme Court already agreed to hear a similar ballot box case filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. In that case, a Waukesha County judge ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes cannot be located anywhere other than at offices of local clerks and that no one other than the voter may return such a ballot.

An appeals court’s ruling put the lower court order on hold until after the Feb. 15 primary. The Supreme Court agreed to keep that stay in place and will hold arguments later.

Republicans in the Legislature are also pushing limits on absentee ballots. Evers is expected to veto any significant election law changes, as he did with six bills last year.

Kleefisch and former Marine Kevin Nicholson are the two highest-profile Republicans seeking to challenge Evers in November.