Wisconsin Supreme Court justices question ballot drop boxes

Apr 12, 2022, 8:53 PM | Updated: Apr 13, 2022, 10:45 am
FILE - Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Electi...

FILE - Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 3, 2020. Wisconsin's Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in a case that will likely determine how extensively absentee ballot drop boxes can be used in the upcoming midterm election where the battleground state's Democratic governor and Republican U.S. senator are on the ballot. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Skeptical Wisconsin Supreme Court justices questioned Wednesday whether state law allows for voters to give their absentee ballot to someone else to return or whether drop boxes can be placed outside municipal clerk offices.

The court’s ruling later this spring or summer is expected to establish rules for the upcoming midterm election where the battleground state’s Democratic governor and Republican U.S. senator are on the ballot.

The court in February barred the use of drop boxes outside election clerk offices for the April spring election where local offices such as mayor, city council and school board were decided. But the larger question the court has yet to address is whether to allow the secure ballot boxes going forward in places such as libraries and grocery stores.

The fight is being closely watched as Republicans push to limit access to absentee ballots following President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Wisconsin, beating Donald Trump by just under 21,000 votes. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are on the ballot in November.

State law is silent on drop boxes, but the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission has told local election officials they can be placed at multiple locations and that ballots can be returned by people other than the voter.

Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who sometimes sides with the court’s liberal minority, zeroed in Wednesday on what it means to deliver a ballot and whether wording in the law means someone other than the voter can return it.

“If I’m mailing an absentee ballot and my wife takes the three steps to put it in the mailbox, have I violated the law?” Hagedorn asked. “Do we need to decide that question?”

Attorney Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty that brought the lawsuit, said that question did need to be addressed. In response to questions, Esenberg said he did not think it would be legal for someone to hand their ballot to a family member within feet of a mailbox and have that person drop it in.

“I’m sure you can appreciate how absurd that result is,” liberal Justice Jill Karofsky said.

Hagedorn also asked whether a ballot would be delivered “in person” if the voter had it dropped off by a representative of a political party. Charles Curtis, attorney for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said he thought that it would be legal as long as the ballot wasn’t tampered with.

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley appeared to doubt that the law would allow for anyone other than the voter to return an absentee ballot.

Advocates for people with disabilities and others argue that not allowing someone other than the voter to return a ballot makes it more difficult for voters who have limited mobility or other physical impairments.

Martha Chambers, a voter from Milwaukee who has been paralyzed for 27 years after a horseback riding injury, said if she’s not allowed to give her ballot to someone else, she won’t be able to vote.

“I physically cannot put my ballot in a mailbox,” she said during a news conference organized by Law Forward, a law firm representing Disability Rights Wisconsin in the lawsuit. “I cannot hand it to a mail carrier. I do not have the option of opening the door of my home and driving my chair to the post office. It’s just impossible.”

Hagedorn also questioned exactly where an absentee ballot drop box could be placed and still be considered legal.

“I think its really important that we define this carefully and not generically,” he said.

In January, Hagedorn sided with liberals and put on hold a lower court’s ruling barring drop boxes outside clerk offices for the February primary. But in February, Hagedorn reversed and sided with the conservative majority in reinstating the lower court’s ruling that put the ban in effect for the April election and beyond pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The elections commission rescinded its guidance pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Wisconsin’s top elections official testified last year that at least 528 drop boxes were used by more than 430 communities in the presidential election. The popularity of absentee voting exploded during the pandemic in 2020, with more than 40% of all voters casting mail ballots, a record high.

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature have also tried to enact laws limiting the use of absentee ballots, but Evers has vetoed them.

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.

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

AP

Auto rickshaws queue up outside a fuels station amid fuel shortage in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, ...
Associated Press

Sri Lankan president calls Russian leader seeking fuel

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Wednesday that he had a telephone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to request credit support to import fuel for the island nation that is facing its worst economic crisis in memory. “Had a very productive telecon with the Russia President Vladimir Putin. While […]
5 hours ago
FILE - In this undated photo from an unknown location, the leader of Taliban fighters, Mullah Haiba...
Associated Press

Taliban leader: Afghan soil won’t be used to launch attacks

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — […]
5 hours ago
FILE  - The logo for Amazon is displayed on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite, July 27, 2018. Brita...
Associated Press

Amazon faces UK investigation over anti-competitive concerns

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s competition watchdog is investigating whether Amazon is harming competition and hurting consumers by giving an unfair advantage to merchants that pay for extra services. The Competition and Markets Authority’s formal investigation said Wednesday that it will look into concerns that the ecommerce giant is abusing its dominance to undermine rivals, echoing […]
5 hours ago
Associated Press

How a hotel satisfaction promise has led to more discontent

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” was all the rage among many hotels. The gist was simple: Encounter a problem and receive your money back. In theory, this approach addressed fairly serious issues such as early-morning pool renovations that made the jackhammer an unwelcome alarm clock. Bed bugs. No hot water. […]
5 hours ago
FILE - People build a model of the business tower Lakhta Centre, at the headquarters of Russian gas...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Fears of a natural gas emergency stalk Europe

It’s not a summer heat wave that’s making European leaders and businesses sweat. It’s fear that Russia’s manipulation of natural gas supplies will lead to an economic and political crisis next winter. Or, in the worst case, even sooner if Russia suddenly cuts off the gas. Here are key things to know about the energy […]
5 hours ago
FILE - In this image made from video, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian gestures du...
Associated Press

Ahead of G-20 ministers’ meeting, China slams US, NATO

BEIJING (AP) — China launched a scathing attack on the U.S. and NATO on Wednesday, days before a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s comments underscore the increasingly fractious relationship, along with China’s increasingly confrontational approach to foreign relations that heatedly rejects […]
5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
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.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Wisconsin Supreme Court justices question ballot drop boxes