Wisconsin Supreme Court Revives Ballot Drop Boxes

One of the key states in the 2024 presidential election is Wisconsin. Less than one percentage point has separated the candidates there in four of the last six presidential elections, and the winner of the state has won the national election four straight times. Donald Trump won the state en route to his victory in 2016 but lost it during his failed reelection bid in 2020.

Ahead of the election, a group called Priorities USA challenged certain voting requirements under Wisconsin law. These included a rule that absentee ballots must be returned by mail or in person to the clerk’s office, rather than using a drop box. In a case called Teigen v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, the Wisconsin Supreme Court had ruled that Wisconsin Statutes Section 6.87 does not allow the use of drop boxes.

The Court decided this case just two years ago, yet it overruled the decision last week. In Priorities USA v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, it decided that the statute allows the use of drop boxes. (The Court noted that this does not require municipal clerks to use drop boxes; it only gives them the discretion to use them.) Governor Tony Evers had urged the Court to overrule Teigen, while the Wisconsin legislature had argued for reaffirming this precedent. Curiously, despite its adverse position in the litigation, the Wisconsin Elections Commission had joined the Governor in advocating for drop boxes.

The abrupt reversal in this interpretation of the law probably results from a change in the composition of the Court. Last year, conservative Justice Patience Roggensack retired. Liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz replaced her. This shifted the Court from a conservative majority to a liberal majority, which produced the 4-3 decision last week. (Teigen also involved a 4-3 vote.) Some legal scholars and other observers criticized the Court for abandoning a precedent so swiftly.

An absentee voter in Wisconsin must ensure that election authorities receive their ballot by the close of polls at 8 P.M. on Election Day. Using drop boxes may give absentee voters more confidence that their votes will count, since it removes the uncertainty over when mailed ballots will be delivered.

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