Ballot boxes are returning to Wisconsin following Supreme Court ruling

Liberals on the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for the use of absentee ballot boxes, changing voting rules four months before the presidential election and reversing a decision two years ago when conservatives controlled the court.

The 4-3 judgment It came a year after liberals won a majority on the Supreme Court in a key swing state and six months after they removed a gerrymander that had long given Republicans a large majority in the state legislature. The prospect of other major decisions became clear this week as justices agreed to hear two abortion cases and appeals to strike down parts of a law that has crippled union powers for government employees for more than a decade.

Ballot boxes have been available in some Wisconsin communities for years, and their use was greatly expanded for the 2020 presidential election as voters returned to the polls due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Top Wisconsin Republicans supported them at the time, but Joe Biden turned against them after narrowly defeating President Donald Trump in the state.

Four months before the 2022 midterm elections, conservatives who control the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of voters who argued they couldn’t use ballot boxes because state law didn’t specifically authorize it. A year later, voters elected a liberal to replace a retiring conservative judge, ending 15 years of conservative control of the court.

Soon after, the liberal group Priorities USA sued to bring back ballot boxes, and on Friday, a majority agreed with the group.

State law requires absentee ballots to be returned by mail or in person. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, writing for the majority, said the ballot boxes are maintained by election officials and provide an avenue for in-person delivery of ballots.

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The majority had to overturn the 2022 decision, he wrote, because its analysis in that case was “not just wrong, but wrong in principle.”

Justice Rebecca Bradley, writing for the dissent, said the court was acting politically and should have stuck with the two-year precedent.

“When justices … indulge their preferences, every case on the table as new justices take the bench displaces the rule of law at the discretion of the justices,” wrote Bradley, who was not related to Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

Supporters of ballot boxes cheered the ruling for giving voters an easier way to count their votes. Critics say the Legislature should decide whether to allow them, and if it does, set rules to ensure they are properly monitored and distributed evenly across the state.

“This is a huge win for voters across Wisconsin,” said David Fox, who argued the case for Priorities USA. “It restores to them the ability to use drop boxes to reliably, conveniently and securely return absentee ballots.”

It is up to local authorities to decide whether to use drop boxes. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat, quickly announced that the city plans to make them available to the state starting in August. Other areas with more Democratic voters are expected to follow suit.

The decision could create political challenges for local leaders in Republican areas. Trump has disparaged absentee voting for years, but some of his allies have begun encouraging the practice. Brian Schimming, chairman of the state Republican Party, condemned the ruling, despite his support for early voting.

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“In a setback to both the separation of powers and public trust in our elections, left-wing justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have bowed to the demands of their out-of-state donors at Wisconsin’s expense,” Schimming said. Written report.

Friday’s decision is a reminder of how judicial elections can quickly change the direction of a state. Months after conservatives won a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022, they reversed recent liberal decisions by approving a voter ID law and reinstating the Republican gerrymander.

In Wisconsin, Ann Bradley is not seeking re-election, and control of the court will be up for grabs in April. Before he leaves, the court is expected to decide whether abortion can continue in the state.

The court this week agreed to review a trial court judge’s decision that the 19th-century law did not prohibit most abortions. Separately, it accepted a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin asking it to declare that the state constitution guarantees the right to an abortion. A ruling in favor of the panel could have implications for long-standing abortion restrictions, such as the state’s 24-hour waiting period.

Meanwhile, a fight is brewing over a 2011 law that bars most public workers in Wisconsin from collective bargaining. On Wednesday, a trial judge It ruled that parts of the law violated the state constitution Because it treats unions for police officers and firefighters differently than unions for other public employees. That case is expected to reach the high court, but it is unclear whether it will land before or after next year’s election.

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The labor law, known as Act 10, led to massive protests and an attempt to remove Gov. Scott Walker (R) from office. Walker became the first governor in US history to survive a recall election and served two terms before losing a 2018 re-election bid.

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