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Pictured: Wisconsin votes casting their ballott at a drop off location.
Disabled voters face deep uncertainty as court rules absentee ballot unlawful. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Wisconsin drop boxes made illegal by conservative-majority state Supreme Court

The ruling is a blow to disabled voters and voting rights groups.

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to Wisconsin voters following its decision to make most state drop boxes illegal, a ruling that disproportionately affects disabled voters in the region. 

Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley authored the majority opinion on the ruling, emphasizing the swing state’s statutes surrounding a person’s authorized family member's ability to drop off a ballot on their behalf. 

"The key phrase is 'in person’ and it must be assigned its natural meaning," wrote Justice Bradley. "'In person' denotes 'bodily presence’ and the concept of doing something personally,” she continued. 

This ruling followed a previous lawsuit in January when a Waukesha County Judge ruled that absentee ballot drop-offs were unlawful and ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to retract its guidance to clerks on how to use the drop boxes.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Bohren added the WEC had exceeded its authority when it issued the recommendations.

Although an Appeals Court blocked Bohren’s ruling, the ban was still in effect for the Feb. 15 elections.

With the high court’s ruling last Friday, disabled voters will face definitive restrictions when attempting to cast their ballots. However, Disability Rights Wisconsin, an advocacy organization at the forefront of guidance, said the ruling did not change or alter federal law.

In a statement, they wrote: “ Federal law protects the right of people with disabilities to have assistance mailing their ballot, and also to have a person of their choice deliver their ballot to their clerk or polling place,” referring to the Voting Rights Act, which allows for provisions to be made in the event a disabled person cannot cast their vote ‘in person.’ 

“Each municipal clerk shall make reasonable efforts to comply with requests for voting accommodations made by individuals with disabilities whenever feasible,” they added. 

Bradley’s ruling fuels fear in voters who fear their vote may not be legally counted, since many may not be physically capable of voting on the ballot.

"This case is about applying the law as written; that's it," wrote Justice Brian Hagedorn, who drew attention to his ruling since, in the past, he’s sided with more liberal rulings. 

In a statement praising the court’s decision, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty wrote: “Wisconsin voters can have confidence that state law, not guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, has the final word on how Wisconsin elections are conducted.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who has no relation to her colleague, wrote, “...such a result, although lamentable, is not a surprise from this court. It has seemingly taken the opportunity to make it harder to vote or to inject confusion into the process whenever it has been presented with the opportunity.” 

Walsh also mentioned the court’s judicial opinion as an opportunity for “ad hominem” attacks, noting that it damaged the public’s “perception of this court’s work.” 

As of 2020, 2 million of Wisconsin’s voters were disabled and now fear they may not be able to vote lawfully.

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