After previously ruling that mail-in ballot boxes could be used in Tuesday’s spring primary, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday in a split decision that ballot boxes would not be allowed in the U.S. general election. April.
In a 4-3 decision, along with conservative justices Brian Hagedorn, who has sided with liberal justices in the past, Rebecca Bradley, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler, the court denied a request from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, disability rights organizations and suffrage advocates. seeking to extend a previous stay that allows the use of drop boxes in the Feb. 15 primary until the April 5 spring election.
“The Commission and Intervenors have failed to demonstrate that irreparable harm or substantial harm to interested parties or to the public interest will result if a stay is not extended until the April 2022 election and beyond. beyond,” the majority wrote in court papers.
The case stems from a lawsuit brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty challenging that nothing in state law authorizes the state election commission to issue directives to clerks allowing them to set up postal ballot boxes. At the same time, state law also does not prohibit drop boxes, and proponents of their use say the boxes provide a safe, secure, and accessible alternative to mailing in a ballot or in-person voting during a pandemic.
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The ongoing battle over the use of freestanding mailbox-like drop boxes has persisted since the 2020 election, in part due to baseless claims of voter fraud by former President Donald Trump, who lost Wisconsin in favor of President Joe Biden by approximately 21,000 votes. .
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ruled the boxes were not permitted under state law, a decision that was later temporarily stayed by the District 4 Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled to allow drop boxes in the Feb. 15 primary to avoid confusion among voters who had already requested ballots.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously agreed to hear the case last month, while handing down a 4-3 decision to uphold the appeals court’s decision to stay Borhen’s decision until the next primary, with the majority citing similar concerns about voter confusion.
“Once again, a majority on this court makes it harder to vote,” liberal Justice Ann Bradley wrote in dissent. “With apparent disregard for the confusion it causes, the Majority does little to notify City Clerks, changing procedures at the eleventh hour and applying different procedures to those that applied to the primary in the same election cycle. “
“City workers will likely feel a boost,” Bradley added.
Justices Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky joined Bradley in their dissent.
A central point of the case stems in part from guidelines issued by the commission in early 2020 to allow election clerks to use their discretion in determining whether to use drop boxes. Hundreds of city workers used the boxes that year when there was still no vaccine for COVID-19 and public health officials warned against large gatherings, such as in the polling stations. At the same time, the large number of mail-in ballots requested that year, combined with U.S. Postal Service cutbacks, led many to fear that their ballots would not return in time if mailed.
The Supreme Court earlier this month handed down a 4-3 ruling, with conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the court’s three liberal justices, to deny the request of former lieutenant governor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch to take similar legal action challenging the use of drop boxes as is.
The Wisconsin Election Commission voted in early December to begin the long process of developing administrative rules for drop boxes. Once submitted as rules, the Rules Committee of the Legislative Assembly can vote to eliminate the policies. In addition, the committee last month failed to reach a consensus on Republicans’ demand for emergency ballot box rules, in part because of the ongoing case.
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