Photo by Mike Steele | Flickr CC BY 2.0
The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling on Friday that denies motions by voting rights advocates and the Wisconsin Elections Commission to prolong the use of unstaffed drop boxes through Wisconsin’s spring elections.
After a lower court order changed the rules and barred drop boxes, the court of appeals stayed that order until after the Feb. 15 primaries. The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case later this year.
Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Elections Commission filed motions with the Wisconsin Supreme Court to extend that stay through the conclusion of the next round of spring elections on April 5.
In explaining its refusal to extend the stay, the court’s conservative majority stated that “this is a different inquiry than the question facing the circuit court, which considered whether to grant a stay when absentee voting for the February 15, 2022 election had commenced.”
The Elections Commission, the majority stated, “can comply with the circuit court’s order so as to ameliorate concerns about voter confusion and election administration before the April 5, 2022 election commences.”
In a dissent joined by Justices Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote, “Once again, a majority of this court makes it more difficult to vote.”
“With apparent disregard for the confusion it is causing, the majority provides next to no notice to municipal clerks, changing procedures at the eleventh hour and applying different procedures from those that applied to the primary in the very same election cycle,” Bradley continued.
“Given that the majority’s order today does not represent the last word from this court,” Bradley added, “why alter the status quo now if there remains the possibility that we will simply change it back again in several months’ time?”
The circuit court ruling will now go back into effect for the April 5 election. That decision, which called on the Wisconsin Elections Commission to change its guidance to municipal clerks, held that each voter must personally mail or deliver his or her own absentee ballot, except where the law explicitly authorizes an agent to act on an elector’s behalf. The only lawful methods of casting an absentee ballot are for the voter to place the envelope containing the ballot in the mail or for the voter to deliver the ballot in person to the municipal clerk, the ruling held, and the use of drop boxes is not permitted under Wisconsin law unless the drop box is staffed by the clerk and located at the office of the clerk or a properly designated alternate site.
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