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Residents drop mail-in ballots in an official ballot box outside of the Tippecanoe branch library on October 20, 2020 in Milwaukee

Residents drop mail-in ballots in an official ballot box outside of the Tippecanoe branch library on October 20, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Judge Rules Ballot Drop Boxes Unlawful

The decision, said one critic, "underscores the imperative of a voting rights legislation that ensures the freedom to vote is protected nationally."

Andrea Germanos

Amid efforts by Republican lawmakers across the nation to suppress access to the polls, a Wisconsin judge ruled Thursday that absentee ballot drop boxes are not allowed by state law.

"This underscores the imperative of a voting rights legislation that ensures the freedom to vote is protected nationally."

"In looking at the statutes, there is no specific authorization for drop boxes," said Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren in siding with the right-wing Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

The ruling also means a voter cannot give their ballot to another individual, including a spouse, neighbor, or poll worker, to be returned.

Bohren additionally "said he would finalize an injunction in 10 days ordering the state Elections Commission to withdraw long-standing advice to municipal clerks around the state that says they can use absentee ballot drop boxes," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

An appeal is likely, with the Associated Press reporting that the "conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court is ultimately expected to rule on the legality of the widespread use of drop boxes in the battleground state."

Jeff Mandell, president and lead counsel at Law Forward—which represented Disability Rights Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice in the case—took issue with the judge's determination and underscored the need for national legislation to protect voting rights.

"The statutes do not prohibit drop boxes. They are legal," Mandell wrote in a Twitter thread following the decision.

He said the ruling "creates new barriers for Wisconsinites to vote absentee" just ahead of the Feb. 15 primary and "in the midst of the Omicron surge of the Covid-19 pandemic."

"If it goes into effect," warned Mandell, "this ruling will prevent some people from casting their ballots."

Political scientist Don Moynihan similarly said the ruling points to a need for federal legislation to strengthen voting rights.

Referring to the drop boxes, Moynihan tweeted that the "state Legislature won't put them back because they believe it's in their interests to limit voting and they can do so because of gerrymandering. That's why federal election reforms is the only way to fix these issues."

Despite widespread public support, two pieces of proposed federal legislation to strengthen voting rights—the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—have stalled in Congress amid GOP obstruction.

But ongoing opposition from a pair of right-wing Democrats, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, to changing the rules of the filibuster has dashed hopes of passing voting rights legislation and sparked outrage from progressive lawmakers and outside groups.

"Once again, we in the House have done our job—the fate of our democracy now rests in the United States Senate," Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted Thursday. "Time is running out. Reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act."

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