Residents drop ballots in an official drop box

Residents drop ballots in an official drop box outside of a library in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 20, 2020.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

'Voters Won Big': Wisconsin Supreme Court Restores Ballot Drop Boxes

"At the very heart of our democracy is the fundamental freedom to vote," said Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. "This is a victory for our democracy."

Democracy defenders in Wisconsin celebrated on Friday after the state Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes can be located throughout communities for the November elections, reversing a decision from two years ago, when there was a majority of right-wing justices.

"Wisconsin voters won big today with the decision to reinstate drop boxes across the Badger State," said All Voting is Local Wisconsin state director Sam Liebert in a statement. "Drop boxes are an incredibly popular form of voting that offer greater access to the elections for those who may not be able to wait in line at the polls, particularly those with disabilities."

"Wisconsin voters should have more options, and drop boxes are a secure and easy way to increase civic participation and ensure voters have another safe, secure, and accessible way to cast their ballot," Liebert added.

Common Cause Wisconsin co-chair Penny Bernard Schaber, whose group joined an amicus brief to the court in May, also welcomed the ruling, saying that "reinstating the use of secure ballot drop boxes is good for all of us in Wisconsin."

"It is especially good for individual voters who have mobility issues and time constraints that make it difficult for them to go into and out of a polling place or an election clerk's office," the former Democratic state representative similarly stressed. "Secure ballot drop boxes are a necessary and safe way to return our ballots."

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) declared: "This is huge news for democracy! Making it easier for folks to vote is a good thing."

Common Cause Wisconsin pointed out that "voter drop boxes have been used since before 2016 and in 2020-21, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of drop boxes was expanded to 570 located in 66 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. The expanded number of drop boxes, authorized by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), offered voters a more convenient and safe way to ensure that their absentee ballots could be returned in time to be counted, in part because of the uncertainty of timely delivery of ballots by the U.S. Postal Service."

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in the majority opinion that "our decision today does not force or require that any municipal clerks use drop boxes. It merely acknowledges what Wis. Stat. § 6.87(4)(b)1. has always meant: that clerks may lawfully utilize secure drop boxes in an exercise of their statutorily-conferred discretion."

She was joined by the other three liberals, including Justice Janet Protasiewicz, whose election last year ended right-wing control of the court. Wisconsinites are preparing for a similar electoral battle next year, when Walsh Bradley plans to retire.

The court earlier this week agreed to take up a pair of high-profile abortion cases. Late last year, the liberal majority threw out Wisconsin's legislative maps, which were rigged to favor Republicans. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed new maps in February.

Applauding the ruling on Friday, Evers said that the court "affirmed what we've been saying all along: Drop box voting is safe, secure, and legal, and local clerks should be empowered to make decisions that make sense for their local communities."

"At the very heart of our democracy is the fundamental freedom to vote," he continued. "This is a victory for our democracy. And we're going to keep fighting to ensure that every eligible voter can cast their ballot safely, securely, and as easily as possible to make sure their voices are heard."

The decision comes as Wisconsin is expected to play a key role in this year's contest for the White House. Democratic President Joe Biden, who is now seeking reelection and campaigning in Wisconsin on Friday, won the state by about 20,000 votes in 2020, when he beat former President Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee.

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