Wisconsin Supreme Court Nixes Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes

In a blow to supporters of haphazard election security and no one else, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state’s absentee ballot drop boxes must be secure in election offices.

The court further decided that only the voter may return their ballott in person, though the outcome does not affect ballots delivered by mail.

Justice Rebecca Bradley expressed the majority opinion when she wrote that “only the legislature may permit absentee voting” using “inanimate” drop boxes. Citing the state statute specific to ballot returns, the majority ruled the key phrase is “in person.”

This, the court declared, denotes bodily presence “and the concept of doing something personally.”

State law does not address the drop boxes, and the court ruled that not being prohibited is not the same as being legal. Absentee ballots may be returned only to the local clerk’s office or another official alternative. That secondary site, however, cannot be an unguarded box.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 led to major changes to accommodate voters during a year of lockdowns and restrictions. Many at the time were eager to limit personal contact, and measures such as the drop boxes were implemented. There were 528 in Wisconsin.

Many conservatives cried foul as these drop boxes were largely distributed in urban Democratic strongholds.

Wisconsin went to President Joe Biden by less than 21,000 votes in 2020, and Democratic apologists were quick to pounce on Friday’s ruling. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is up for reelection this year, accused Republicans of undermining “free, fair, and secure elections.”

State party chairman Ben Winkler called it “a slap in the face of democracy itself.”

State director of voting advocacy group All Voting is Local, Shauntay Nelson, was pleased by continued access to voting by mail. She added, however, that voters need to have as many options available as possible.

The U.S. mail, it seems, is an option open to virtually everyone. Instead, Democrats prefer unsupervised drop boxes for people who apparently can get there but not to their mailbox.

State election commission officials will review the ruling and expect to meet this week to measure its impact on coming elections. Wisconsin has primaries set for next month.