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Wisconsin Supreme Court will reconsider ruling limiting absentee ballot drop boxes

Superior has a drop box for absentee ballots outside the city's government center polling location. 
Superior had a drop box for absentee ballots outside the city’s government center polling location in 2020. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will consider overturning its own ruling limiting the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, the justices said Tuesday.

The court ruled in July 2022 that absentee drop boxes may be used only in election offices and no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person.

Conservative justices controlled the court at the time, but Janet Protasiewicz’s election victory in April 2023 flipped the court to liberal control, setting the stage for flipping the ruling. Priorities USA, a progressive voter mobilization group, asked the court last month to reconsider the ruling.

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The justices issued an order early Tuesday evening saying they would review the ban on drop boxes but won’t reconsider any other parts of the case. Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in dissent that there’s no reason to revisit the decision and the liberal majority is signaling that they intended to declare drop boxes legal in a “shameless effort to readjust the balance of political power in Wisconsin.”

“Overturning (the ruling), a mere two years after its issuance, is nothing but a partisan maneuver designed to give the majority’s preferred political party an electoral advantage,” Bradley wrote. “This is not neutral judging.”

A reversal could have huge implications in the 2024 presidential race, in which Wisconsin will again be among a handful of battleground states. President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly took the state by a similar margin.

Democrats hope that making it easier to vote absentee will boost turnout for their side. At least 29 other states allow for absentee ballot drop boxes, according to the U.S. Vote Foundation.

The popularity of absentee voting exploded during the pandemic in 2020, with more than 40% of all voters casting mail ballots, a record high. At least 500 drop boxes were set up in more than 430 communities for the election that year, including more than a dozen each in Madison and Milwaukee — the state’s two most heavily Democratic cities.

Trump and Republicans have alleged that drop boxes facilitated cheating, even though they offered no evidence. Democrats, election officials and some Republicans argued the boxes are secure.

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