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Ballot drop boxes returning to Wisconsin following top court decision


Ballot drop boxes returning to Wisconsin following top court decision

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

The 4-3 ruling came a year after liberals took a majority on the top court in a crucial swing state and six months after they undid a gerrymander that had long given Republicans huge majorities in the state legislature. The prospect of other major decisions became clear this week because the justices agreed to hear two major abortion cases, and an appeal appeared headed their way that would determine whether to strike down portions of a law that has crippled the powers of unions for government workers for more than a decade.

Ballot drop boxes were available for years in some Wisconsin communities, and their use was greatly expanded for the 2020 presidential election as voters turned to absentee voting because of the covid-19 pandemic. Top Wisconsin Republicans supported them at the time but turned against them after Joe Biden narrowly beat Donald Trump in the state.

Four months before the 2022 midterm elections, conservatives who then controlled the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of voters who argued that ballot drop boxes could not be used because state law did not specifically authorize them. A year later, voters elected a liberal to replace a retiring conservative justice, ending conservatives’ 15-year control of the court.

Soon afterward, the liberal group Priorities USA sued to bring back ballot drop boxes, and a trial judge rejected its claim because of the state Supreme Court’s 2022 decision. On Friday, the justices overturned the 2022 decision on drop boxes and returned Priorities USA’s case to the trial judge for further proceedings.

Supporters say drop boxes give voters a secure, convenient way to return ballots so they can be counted. Opponents say the legislature should determine whether they are allowed and, if it does, set rules to ensure they are properly monitored and evenly distributed around the state.

Friday’s decision offered a reminder of how judicial elections can quickly change the direction of a state. Just 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 a Republican gerrymander.

In Wisconsin, control of the court will be up for grabs in April because a liberal justice is not seeking reelection. Before she leaves, the court is expected to decide whether abortions can continue in the state.

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

Meanwhile, a fight looms over a 2011 law that all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin. On Wednesday, a trial judge ruled that parts of the law violate the state constitution because it treats unions for police officers and firefighters differently than unions for most other government employees. That case is expected to make it to the high court, but it’s unclear if it will get there before or after next year’s election for a seat on the court.

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 U.S. history to survive a recall election and served two terms before losing his 2018 reelection bid.

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