Ballot drop boxes legal again in Wisconsin after ruling

A decision by the liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a near-total ban on the use of ballot drop boxes in elections put in place in 2022 — restoring this voting method could have major implications for the 2024 election.

By Zac Schultz | PBS News Hour

July 5, 2024

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A Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling could impact the 2024 presidential election. In a 4-3 decision, the liberal majority reversed a near-total ban on the use of ballot drop boxes. Restoring this method, which was used slightly more by Biden voters than Trump voters in the 2020 election, could have major implications. Lisa Desjardins discussed more with Zac Schultz of PBS Wisconsin.

PBS Newshour

By Lisa Desjardins, Matt Loffman and Saher Khan, PBS News Hour

Amna Nawaz:
Another court decision that could impact the 2024 presidential election, this time from the state Supreme Court in Wisconsin. Our Lisa Desjardins has more.

Lisa Desjardins:
In a 4-3 decision, the new liberal majority on Wisconsin's Supreme Court today reversed a near-total ban on the use of ballot drop boxes in elections there.

In 2020, President Biden won Wisconsin by one of the smallest margins in the country. Restoring this voting method could have major implications for this year's election.

Following this all closely is Zac Schultz with PBS Wisconsin.

Zac, tell us what the court decided. And is this the final word before the election?

Zac Schultz, PBS Wisconsin:
It is the final word before the election.

The liberal majority here by 4-3 overturned only a 2-year-old case. It was called the Teigen case. And in 2022, then the conservative majority in a pretty fractured decision, with only finding a consensus on a handful of paragraphs, enough to essentially say Wisconsin state law did not explicitly allow absentee ballot drop boxes and, therefore, they weren't allowed.

In the dissent, the liberals at that time said they got it wrong. This is their chance to redo it. They took the case. Throughout this process, the conservatives had signaled in all their dissenting opinions that they knew this outcome. It was preordained. They have been taking shots at the liberals, saying they're just running policy for the Democrats.

But it's a big decision and it clears things up for Wisconsin's municipal clerks in advance of our August primary and the November elections, so they know how this will play out.

Lisa Desjardins:
As you say, this is a complete flip from the conservative court just over a year ago. And this could affect an enormous amount of ballots.

According to a Pew survey in 2020, some 40 percent of early votes were cast using these ballot drop boxes. Do we know, does the presence of these boxes, as we now will expect in Wisconsin, does that benefit one party or the other?

Zac Schultz:
Well, Republicans, and especially in the wake of Donald Trump's election conspiracy, tried to say that it was about Democrats and Democratic fraud.

But the fact is, these were used in most counties, including red counties, rural areas, places that supported Trump and conservatives. And we're expecting some of these to go back. In fact, it may benefit those areas more, because, if a local clerk doesn't have regular office hours, someone can simply drop off a ballot, especially if the mail isn't quite consistent running up to Election Day.

So we expect them to come back. Madison and Milwaukee have already announced they will be open and ready. They really never removed their boxes in the first place, but more areas around the state. It will be a locality decision to decide how they come back into play.

Lisa Desjardins:
As you say, this was a part of conspiracy theories and some of the lies about the 2020 election, but on a more basic level, what do we know about how secure these ballot boxes are?

Zac Schultz:
Well, we know that, in Madison, for example, they're located outside police stations, fire departments. There are cameras nearby so they can monitor them. They're dropped — they're locked. They only have certain access.

So, in some respects, they are more secure than your mailbox, where, in Wisconsin, it's perfectly legal to place your absentee ballot to be mailed back. So it has the same security that you would expect anywhere.

Lisa Desjardins:
This was an enormous decision, but can you take us more broadly as we finish up into the state politics surrounding your Supreme Court and what decisions and issues can be ahead?

Zac Schultz:
Well, the biggest one is just this week that same liberal majority announced they will revisit Wisconsin's abortion ban and that law that was — dates back to 1849.

They're taking two cases on that, one which would just examine whether to overturn the law, and the second, much more broadly, would look at whether there is a constitutional right to abortion and health care abortion services in Wisconsin's Constitution.

The way that it's being set for briefings, they will be ready for oral arguments in the fall, so that brings up the possibility that that decision could come down some — before the end of the year, maybe by Election Day.

Lisa Desjardins:
Zac Schultz with PBS Wisconsin, thank you for covering this all. And we will be seeing you soon at the Republican Convention coming up in Milwaukee in just over a week.

Zac Schultz:
And can't wait to see you.

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