Banning drop boxes for absentee ballots across Wisconsin was rash and unnecessary.
And comparing them to the dictatorship of the late Saddam Hussein in Iraq is absurd and reckless. That’s what Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley just did.
Voting drop boxes were a convenient way to cast ballots during the pandemic, when the coronavirus was spreading fast and killing thousands of Wisconsin residents, especially the elderly. Many voters of all ages and political leanings found drop boxes helpful. They improved participation in our democracy with no credible evidence of fraud.
Yet an aggressive state Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision July 8, needlessly prohibited ballot drop boxes. What happened to judicial restraint? State law doesn’t specifically say anything about drop boxes for absentee ballots. So why read something into the law that isn’t there?
Bradley even suggested, in her majority opinion, that banning the secured boxes will help prevent rigged voting similar to Iraq, where Hussein won with a manufactured 100% of the vote. Her rhetoric was over the top — something you’d expect from a hyper-partisan politician, not a high-court judge.
More than 500 ballot drop boxes appeared across the state in 2020 after COVID-19 emerged as the worst pandemic in a century. The boxes enjoyed bipartisan support – including from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other Republicans. They made sense because public health officials were recommending people stay at least 6 feet apart to reduce the spread of the disease.
Election officials tightly secured the drop boxes to the ground or buildings. In Madison, they were placed outside fire stations staffed through the night. Their contents were just as safe — if not more so — than ballots dropped into mailboxes.
The drop boxes simply removed the middle man and sped up delivery. Election officials regularly checked the boxes and took them to municipal offices for safe storage. Voters didn’t have to worry about ballots being lost in the mail or delayed.
Many people didn’t even leave their vehicle to drop in a ballot. They pulled up, rolled down their window and deposited it like mailing an important bill or letter.
The end of drop boxes for ballots in Wisconsin won’t change much. Mailboxes are still conveniently located in lots of neighborhoods. And you can still drop off ballots — often curbside — to poll workers at your clerk’s office. Thanks to vaccines and other precautions against COVID, many voters are now comfortable casting ballots in person.
The court’s decision isn’t the end of democracy any more than it was a threat to fair elections.
But it’s still disappointing. Voting should be as easy as possible while still being secure. That’s what drop boxes ensured, despite former President Donald Trump’s endless and baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud that he imagined to salve his ego.
Trump lost the 2020 election, fair and square. Recounts, audits and legal decisions have proven President Joe Biden won. The real threat to our democracy is Trump, a losing candidate who still won’t concede defeat.
Trump’s outrageous behavior in trying to reverse a legitimate election and the will of the people draws a much closer comparison to dictatorships than any of Wisconsin’s careful election procedures.
Ballot drop boxes were good for democracy. Many voters will miss them. The only positive thing about their absence will be that Trump’s cowardly apologists in Wisconsin will have one less innocuous procedure to complain about as a distraction from Trump’s failings.