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Wisconsin Supreme Court rules absentee ballot drop boxes not allowed in April election

Drop boxes will still be allowed for the Feb. 15 primary.

Voting drop boxes
A car drives by the Absentee Ballot box in the parking lot of the Government Center in Superior, Wis., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled that ballot drop boxes cannot be used ahead of the April election.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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MADISON — The on-again, off-again saga of absentee ballot drop boxes continued in Wisconsin Friday, Feb. 11, with the state Supreme Court ruling that the boxes won't be allowed for the state's April 5 election.

The court's order was not a final decision and will not affect the Feb. 15 primary, where drop boxes will still be allowed.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren ruled last month that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal in Wisconsin, siding with conservatives in a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Bohren wanted his order to take effect almost immediately .

A state Appeals Court issued a stay of that Bohren's ruling, temporarily blocking it from taking effect for the Feb. 15 primary. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld that stay , keeping drop boxes in place for at least one more election.

The state Supreme Court said it was too close to the February election to change the rules for voting, but in Friday's order , justices ruled that there was enough time to make the change ahead of the April 5 election.

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"This is a different inquiry," wrote the court. "The record before us, including the timetable for making the necessary administrative changes as outlined by the court of appeals, indicates that the (Wisconsin Elections) Commission can comply."

While the order 4-3 was unsigned, it was handed down by the court's conservative majority. Conservative swing Justice Brian Hagedorn, who sided with liberals in the earlier ruling on drop boxes, sided with conservatives in Friday's decision.

Writing for the dissent, liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the court's ruling had made it more difficult to vote.

"Municipal clerks will likely feel a sense of whiplash," Bradley wrote. "Procedures that were in effect for at least the last two years regarding drop boxes and absentee voting are now no longer in effect, but may be again in a few months. The majority's order is seemingly oblivious to the practicalities of election administration."

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, there were 570 absentee ballot drop boxes being used in Wisconsin by spring of 2021, spanning at least 66 of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

Friday's order was not a final ruling in the case, meaning justices have yet to decide once and for all whether drop boxes will be allowed in Wisconsin. That means it's still unclear whether they'll be permitted in Wisconsin's upcoming August primary and November general election, two contests with much higher voter turnout.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and at wpr.org .

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2022, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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