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What changing election regulations mean for Wisconsin's rural voters

Natalie Jablonski

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday barred the use of most absentee ballot drop boxes in the state.

The court also made it illegal for anyone other than the voter, like family members or close friends, to return a completed ballot.

The ruling could have a disproportionate impact on rural Wisconsinites.

The nonpartisan organization Secure Democracy USA recently released a report about how ongoing debates about voting and election-related legislation could impact rural voters.

The report, called The Forgotten Voters: How Current Threats to Voting Hurt Rural Americans, found that people who live in rural areas often travel much further distances to cast a ballot than people who live in urban or suburban settings.

In Wisconsin, for example, rural counties have about one voting place every 34 miles. But voters in suburban parts of the state have a polling location every 13 square miles.

“Obviously, a rural voter with the need to vote in-person on election day will have to travel a lot further. If those voters are busy just like suburban and urban voters, that could be a challenge that other voters don’t face,” says Daniel Griffith, the senior director of policy with Secure Democracy USA.

The report also found that 38 percent of voters in rural Wisconsin counties voted before election day in the last presidential election either by mail or in-person.

Because of this, Secure Democracy USA recommends expanding access to early in-person voting and providing secure drop box locations so people in rural areas don’t have to travel as far to drop off a ballot.

“We’d certainly like to see the legislature take a look at creating a situation where voters have the ability to have a secure location other than the election office that might be far away from where they live,” Griffith says.

But not everyone agrees with these recommendations, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that there’s no provision in state law that allows for absentee ballot drop boxes to be used.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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