The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck a blow for election security on Friday with a ruling that absentee ballot drop boxes are only permissible inside election offices and no person other than the actual voter can return a ballot in person.
The court’s 4-3 decision did not address the issue of whether ballots returned by mail can be sent by a person other than the voter. That leaves the door open for ballot harvesters to mail in multiple ballots rather than returning them to drop boxes.
Republicans have argued since the 2020 election that ballot harvesting is wide open to fraudulent practices. Democrats respond by claiming that older and disabled voters need assistance in order to get their ballots completed and placed in the mail.
In the Wisconsin lawsuit, supporters of remote location drop boxes argued to the court that the boxes are better than mail because there is a lower chance that ballots will be delayed or lost.
The court’s ruling will apply to all elections in the state, beginning with the upcoming August 9 primary. Major races on the ballot this year in the state include the reelection efforts of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Johnson praised the court’s decision, saying it is “a big step in the right direction.”
Evers joined the Democratic chorus criticizing the ruling, with Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler saying the ruling is “a slap in the face of democracy itself.”
The ruling is certain to have an impact on the 2024 presidential election, as Wisconsin is expected to again be a crucial battleground state. In 2020, Joe Biden won the state over President Donald Trump by less than 21,000 votes. Trump won Wisconsin by a narrow margin in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.
The trend of expanded early voting in recent years exploded with expansions in the availability of absentee and mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, a record number of more than 40% of Wisconsin voters cast their ballots by mail. That year also saw at least 500 voting drop boxes used in more than 430 precincts in the state. There were more than a dozen boxes used in heavily Democratic Madison and Milwaukee.
The court’s ruling provided that state law does not specifically address the use of drop boxes. It said that the fact that boxes are not expressly prohibited does not lead to a conclusion that they are therefore legal.