The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 decision to leave in place a ruling on the use of ballot drop boxes through Feb.15. This ruling comes just 2 weeks before the primary election, made to preserve the existing election protocol.
“Vacating the stay would also likely cause substantial harm to the defendants and the public interest,” the court said in its decision. “The February 2022 election process is already underway.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously discouraged lower courts from changing rules too close to elections.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, who often leans conservative in decisions, sided with liberals on the case, ruling in favor of the ballot drop boxes due to the case’s timing. Despite being widely used and trusted for years prior, ballot drop boxes became a political debate during the 2020 presidential election as Republican officials argued drop boxes are illegal under Wisconsin state law and encourage potential voter fraud.
"As a general rule, this court should not muddy the waters during an ongoing election," Hagedorn wrote in his concurring opinion.
This ruling proves as a signal that a further decision on the legality of drop boxes for the November midterm election could be decided by Justice Hagedorn.
“In Wisconsin, there is always an impending election. Under the logic of this concurrence, (the Wisconsin Elections Commission) may declare the rules as it wishes, the court of appeals may disregard the law when it wishes and the majority will do nothing in response," Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in a dissenting opinion.
The case was brought forth to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after a Waukesha County judge banned the use of ballot drop boxes. The decision in Waukesha was then temporarily blocked by an appeals court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision did not, however, reverse this decision banning drop boxes from being placed outside of municipal clerk’s offices.
"The potential for voter confusion and uncertainty in administration is apparent in this situation," wrote the appeals court. "If the current guidance is withdrawn at this stage of the election process, there is significant uncertainty as to whether these votes would be counted."
The Wisconsin Elections Commission was deadlocked in a 3-3 vote on the matter before it was brought to the court.
There will be another decision in the case for ballot drop boxes before the November midterm election. In this year’s November midterms, Wisconsinites will vote for a U.S. Senator and governor.