State Supreme Court Rules To Allow Ballot Drop Boxes Despite GOP


The Wisconsin state Supreme Court has upheld a ruling from a lower-level appeals court that allowed drop boxes for mail-in ballots to be used in the state’s upcoming primary elections, for which Election Day is February 15. The four Justices on the state’s highest-court who supported leaving the drop box allowance in place pointed to the fact that the imminence of the next round of elections could lead to confusion among voters, some of whom have already received their mail-in ballots along with instructions stating that drop boxes can be used. Frequently, baseless concerns about drop boxes in particular and mail-in voting in general have been parts of pro-Trump conspiracy theories about imaginary election fraud, but real-world evidence of a widespread security problem with the boxes as they’ve been most recently used hasn’t emerged.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unveiled its decision on using drop boxes for the February 15 primaries alongside a unanimous decision to take up the case in general. It’s not over yet — the court now has to decide on using drop boxes for elections after the February 15 primaries, and there’s a lot at stake. It’s this year that Wisconsin residents will head to the polls — or otherwise cast their votes — for elections for governor and U.S. Senator. With the currently close party breakdown in the Senate in mind, every individual U.S. Senate race could have the potential to be the tipping point for control of the entire chamber. And one part of it all comes down to what a seven-judge panel in Wisconsin will decide about drop boxes for mail-in ballots.

The four Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who opted to allow drop boxes for the February 15 primaries include the Republican Justice Brian Hagedorn, who wrote that, generally, the court “should not muddy the waters during an ongoing election.” Republican Justice Rebecca Bradley criticized Hagedorn’s argument, insisting that “[in] Wisconsin, there is always an impending election,” adding: “Under the logic of [Hagedorn’s opinion], [the Wisconsin Elections Commission] may declare the rules as it wishes, the court of appeals may disregard the law when it wishes, and the majority will do nothing in response.” That is not an accurate reading of the situation. It’s not simply about the fact that an election will take place at some point in the near future — voters have already received ballots that came with instructions stating that drop boxes are acceptable!

The original lawsuit that led to these latest developments hinges on a claim that drop boxes should not be allowed in Wisconsin because they’re not specifically mentioned in state law as an allowable way to return ballots. Before the appeals court opted to allow ballot drop boxes for the February primaries, a lower-level judge had thrown support behind the case’s arguments and ruled against using any drop boxes at all. Ballot drop boxes help voters who may have a more difficult time finding an opportunity to visit an in-person polling place, and they’re unaffected by the procedural hurdles of the postal system.