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Wisconsin ballot drop box case focuses on what voting law says

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(The Center Square) – Most of the argument for again allowing ballot drop boxes in Wisconsin hinged on what the state’s absentee voter law did and did not say.

The new liberal-majority Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on whether it should overturn a 2022 decision from the then conservative-majority court that outlawed ballot drop boxes.

“[The 2022 court] read a restriction into the statute that simply is not there and in doing so made it harder for municipal clerks to carry out their duties and for Wisconsin voters to return their ballots for no adequate legal reason,” David Fox, attorney for Priorities USA told the court Monday morning.

Fox, and the voting group Priorities USA say the 2022 decision is both “unworkable” and unconstitutional.

“It is very important for clerks and voters to know what the statutes, in fact, require,” Fox told the justices.

Conservative Chief Justice Rebecca Bradley, however, was quick to point out that Wisconsin law doesn’t specifically allow for ballot drop boxes or anything like them.

“The law in the state of Wisconsin is that there is a right to vote, but there is not a right to vote absentee. That is a privilege that was granted legislatively,” Bradley said.

She added that lawmakers intended to have absentee voting be “heavily regulated.”

“So, is it your argument, you’re asking this court to give municipal clerks absolutely free reign to disregard the carefully regulated regime established by the people’s representatives in the legislature, and they can do whatever they want as long as it’s workable?” Bradley asked.

Fellow conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn pushed Fox on a different angle of the legal theory behind voting at unmanned drop-off sites.

“My understanding is that you are arguing that it is unconstitutional to not have drop boxes as a method of returning absentee ballots,” Hagedorn said. “I don’t understand that at all.”

Wisconsin’s liberal justices, however, focused more on the last ballot drop box decision than what Wisconsin’s absentee voting law says.

“What if we just got it wrong?” Justice Jill Karofsky asked. What if we made a mistake? Are we now supposed to just perpetuate that mistake into the future?”

The case could have a significant impact on the November election. In the spring of 2022, just before the old court outlawed ballot drop boxes, there were nearly 600 ballot drop boxes in use.

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