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Advocates Call on WI Supreme Court to 'Unlock the Drop Boxes'

Voting Ballot Drop off Box
Pamela JG Au
/
Adobe Stock
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, more than 40% of voters cast their ballots by mail in November 2020, up roughly 5% in the 2016 presidential election.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will soon hand down a decision on whether absentee ballot drop boxes are permitted under state law. Ahead of that decision, voting-rights advocates are highlighting the importance of the drop boxes and why they're an essential route to cast a ballot.

Anita Johnson, outreach and education specialist with Souls to the Polls, said at a news conference yesterday that permanently removing the drop boxes is effectively voter suppression.

"This was very convenient," said Johnson, "and an easy way for senior citizens and people with disabilities to make sure that their ballots were in a safe and secure place, and that their vote was counted."

Republican lawmakers argue the drop boxes are essentially ballot harvesting, and they're not explicitly permitted under state law.

But, with permission and guidance from the state's bipartisan Elections Commission, hundreds of drop boxes were used in communities across the state during the 2020 presidential election without major issues.

In January, a Waukesha County Circuit Court held the Elections Commission had overstepped its bounds in permitting the drop boxes, and they weren't allowed under state law.

That decision also determined the person casting the ballot must be the one to submit it or mail it, and no unauthorized third party can handle their ballot.

For Milwaukee resident Martha Chambers, who lost the use of her arms and legs after a horseback riding accident, that's an essentially insurmountable hurdle.

"So, for this new barrier that the Waukesha Circuit Court has put upon us," said Chambers, "it is impossible for me to vote. So they have taken my right to vote away from me."

The American Association of People with Disabilities estimates that nearly a quarter of the national electorate in 2020, or about 35 million individuals, were people with disabilities. Meanwhile, the federal government estimates that about 977,000 Wisconsinites are disabled.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Born and raised in Indiana, Jonah Chester has been covering issues in Wisconsin for the past several years. He previously worked at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he earned awards for his coverage of everything from law enforcement and policing to the 2020 presidential election.
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