Wisconsin Supreme Court keeps ballot boxes in place for now

Jan 28, 2022, 5:33 PM | Updated: 5:48 pm

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday allowed absentee ballot boxes to remain in place for the Feb. 15 statewide spring primary election for local offices, but said it will decide later about their legality going forward.

The court agreed to take the case, as requested by a conservative group, but did not lift a stay on a lower court ruling declaring that no ballot boxes could be in place beyond those at municipal clerk’s offices. A state appeals court put the stay in place.

“Vacating the stay would also likely cause substantial harm to the defendants and the public interest,” the court said in its decision issued Friday evening. “The February 2022 election process is already underway.”

The fight is being closely watched in battleground Wisconsin as Republicans there push to limit access to absentee ballots following President Joe Biden’s narrow win over Donald Trump in 2020. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are on the ballot in November.

Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who sometimes sides with liberal justices, again proved himself to be the deciding vote in the 4-3 ruling. Three conservative justices dissented and argued that the stay should have been lifted to disallow absentee ballot boxes immediately.

The ruling came after the state elections commission failed to reach a consensus on how to handle Republican lawmakers’ demands that they either withdraw guidance on absentee ballot drop boxes or quickly publish formal rules, opening the door to yet another legal battle.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, deadlocked 3-3 Friday three times on what to do next. That means the current guidance telling municipal clerks that drop boxes can be placed at multiple locations remains in place. Wisconsin law is silent on drop boxes.

“It’s up to the courts now,” said Democratic commissioner Mark Thomsen.

Republican Sen. Steve Nass, head of the rules committee that ordered the commission to take action, said the Legislature would “rapidly commence litigation.”

Thomsen argued against taking any action before the Supreme Court weighs in. The court issued its decision to take the case hours later. The elections commission planned to meet again Monday.

Republicans on the commission advocated for withdrawing the commission’s current guidance, as Republicans in the Legislature ordered. That motion failed 3-3, as did one supported by Democrats to pursue writing an emergency rule on drop boxes that is consistent with current guidance.

Republican commissioner Dean Knudson argued that the easiest solution was to withdraw the guidance.

“It’s simple, it’s common sense, it’s straightforward,” he said.

The commission issued guidance on drop boxes in a move to make voting more convenient and safer as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified.

Republicans who previously voiced support for absentee drop boxes have intensified criticism following Trump’s loss, saying they increase the potential for fraud.

No widespread fraud has been found in Wisconsin, despite numerous lawsuits and reviews, and to date only five people have been charged with voter fraud in Wisconsin out of nearly 3.3 million who cast ballots in the presidential race.

The elections commission also voted 4-2 against retracting its guidance issued in October 2016 allowing clerks to correct witness address omissions and mistakes on absentee ballot envelopes without contacting the witness or the voter.

The Legislature’s rules committee earlier this month ordered the commission to publish the guidance as an emergency rule by Feb. 9, while it works on a permanent rule.

The commission voted unanimously Friday to move ahead with drafting an emergency rule. But it put off deciding whether the rule will follow its current guidance or take a different approach until a meeting Monday night.

Republicans have made similar moves since Trump’s defeat to tighten access to ballots in other battleground states. The restrictions especially target voting methods that have been rising in popularity and erecting hurdles to mail balloting and early voting that saw explosive growth earlier in the pandemic. More than 40% of all voters in the 2020 presidential election cast mail ballots, a record high.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

US defense chief in Hawaii amid distrust after fuel spill

HONOLULU (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Hawaii this week amid lingering community frustration and distrust after jet fuel from a military storage facility last year spilled into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water, poisoned thousands of military families and threatened the purity of Honolulu’s water supply. Austin was in Hawaii to meet with his […]
16 hours ago
University of Central Florida students try to get into their apartment near the campus that was tot...
Associated Press

After Ian, Florida college students left homeless by floods

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A typical Friday for University of Central Florida students at the Arden Villas apartments means preparing for a weekend of college football viewing, beer pong and, maybe, flipping open a book or two. Hurricane Ian required a change of plans. Students living at the complex near the UCF campus on Friday […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Musher Jessie Holmes takes a break from cooking his dogs a meal to nuzzle with two wheel dog...
Associated Press

Alaska reality star injured while cleaning up storm damage

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A reality television star and Iditarod musher was injured this week while helping clean up storm damage along Alaska’s western coast. Jessie Holmes, who since 2015 has starred in “Life Below Zero,” a show about life in rural Alaska produced by National Geographic TV, was injured by falling debris in a […]
16 hours ago
American's Andy Huynh, right, and Alex Drueke arrive at the TWA Hotel on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in ...
Associated Press

U.S. captives ‘prayed for death’ on brutal ride from Ukraine

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Even after three months of captivity that included execution threats, physical torture, solitary confinement and food deprivation, it was the ride to freedom that nearly broke Alex Drueke, a U.S. military veteran released last week with nine other prisoners who went to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders. His hands were […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Plea deal for Ex-Trump adviser accused of unwanted advances

LAS VEGAS (AP) — An ex-adviser to former President Donald Trump has taken a plea deal to resolve allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to a GOP donor at a Las Vegas event. Corey Lewandowski entered into a plea agreement earlier this month involving a charge of misdemeanor battery, according to online Clark County […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Trump fraud lawsuit goes to judge who held him in contempt

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York attorney general’s lawsuit accusing Donald Trump and his company of fraud has been assigned to a state court judge who repeatedly ruled against the former president in related subpoena disputes — including holding him in contempt, fining him $110,000 and forcing him to sit for a deposition. Trump’s […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Wisconsin Supreme Court keeps ballot boxes in place for now