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 May 14, 2024

Wisconsin Supreme Court Agrees To Reexamine Ballot Drop Box Ban

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has announced that it will revisit a 2022 ruling that had restricted the use of most absentee ballot drop boxes, sparking debate and urgency ahead of a major election.

NBC News reported that with a newfound liberal majority, the court's decision could reinstate widespread use of drop boxes during the upcoming presidential election.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments concerning the future of absentee ballot drop boxes in the state. The court's current 4-3 liberal majority may overturn a nearly two-year-old ruling established by conservative justices.

This potential reversal is crucial as it could affect the forthcoming presidential election by reinstating the widespread use of drop boxes for absentee ballots. This move has been championed by Democratic and progressive groups who filed multiple briefs advocating for the overturning of the 2022 decision.

Conversely, conservative groups and the Wisconsin Republican Party continue to support the standing rules, arguing against the security and integrity of these drop boxes, which were criticized post-2020 election by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

Background of The 2022 Ruling

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Wisconsin Elections Commission relaxed the rules on absentee ballot drop boxes to increase voting accessibility.

However, in July 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in a tight 4-3 decision that absentee ballots could be dropped off only at election clerks’ offices.

This decision underscored that the authority to set absentee ballot policies rested with the state Legislature rather than the Wisconsin Elections Commission. This ruling has since been a point of contention between different political factions.

Following the shift in the court's majority to liberals in 2023, advocacy group Priorities USA filed a lawsuit challenging the 2022 ruling, claiming it was flawed because state law does not explicitly address the issue of drop boxes.

Lawsuit and Judicial Review

This lawsuit, initially narrowed at the trial court level, was expedited to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In March, the liberal justices agreed to evaluate whether the 2022 ruling was incorrectly decided, a motion supported by various Democratic factions.

Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, defended the use of drop boxes, stating, "They make voting more accessible and possible for people. That’s the reason we support it.” Heck further added, "Despite worries and claims by-election deniers and conspiracy theorists, drop boxes were not used for any nefarious purpose like they’ve claimed."

In contrast, Wisconsin GOP Chairman Brian Schimming voiced concerns about the potential return to widespread use of drop boxes, highlighting the possibility of "hijinks" by Democrats and questioning the security of these boxes. "Our primary concern here is that the law gets reversed... The law keeps moving around in this state unnecessarily," Schimming said, noting it could lead to "confusion" and "chaos" during voting.

Legal Ambiguities and Future Implications

One of the core issues debated is the legal ambiguity surrounding the use of drop boxes. Wisconsin laws require absentee ballots to be returned by mail or in person but do not specify whether other locations besides a clerk’s office are allowed.

Priorities USA argues that because Wisconsin law is silent on this issue, the 2022 ruling overlooked the practicality and accessibility benefits drop boxes offer. Conversely, those supporting the 2022 decision maintain that statutory omissions do not automatically permit the use of such voting alternatives.

The court's decision on this matter will be pivotal in shaping voter accessibility and election procedures in Wisconsin, especially with the high-stakes presidential election looming.

As the date for the oral arguments approaches, both advocacy groups and political entities are closely monitoring the case. The outcome could significantly impact voter turnout and administrative practices in Wisconsin during future elections.

Schimming expressed concerns about the timing and potential partisanship, saying, "I’m not hostile to looking at things differently... but we’re six months away from the election and we have a Supreme Court who feels as though they’re the second Legislature.”

Supporters of overturning the 2022 ruling believe that the reinstatement of drop boxes will enhance voter participation and ease of voting, especially for those facing difficulties in reaching clerks' offices or mailing ballots.


In conclusion, the Wisconsin Supreme Court's upcoming decision on absentee ballot drop boxes carries substantial implications for the future of voting in the state. With the court's current liberal majority, there is a strong possibility the 2022 ruling could be overturned. This would potentially reintroduce drop boxes for the presidential election. Supporters argue this will increase voter accessibility, while opponents raise security and confusion concerns. The ongoing legal debate demonstrates the complexities and high stakes involved in election law as Wisconsin navigates these contentious issues.

Written By:
Christina Davie

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