Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How Absentee Ballot Boxes Became Illegal

Used in 40 states and backed by Republicans, until their new push to make them illegal.

By - Jan 17th, 2022 03:38 pm
Ballot drop boxes, permanent boxes in left two images. Photos from Milwaukee Election Commission and Jeramey Jannene.

Ballot drop boxes, permanent boxes in left two images. Photos from Milwaukee Election Commission and Jeramey Jannene.

Absentee election drop boxes have been used in states like Washington and Oregon for years without any problems. By the 2016 presidential election, nearly one in six voters nationwide cast their ballot using drop boxes, as National Public Radio reported, including nearly 75 percent of all voters in Colorado, as the Brennan Center reported.

But the advent of the pandemic, and fears of voting in-person, greatly increased the use of drop boxes, which 40 states used in 2020, as the National Conference of State Legislatures reported. It had become common in every part of the country, in red states and blue states.

In Wisconsin, 60% of vote in November 2020 was absentee voting, most of it by mail, but with 500 drop boxes across the state also used, as a report by the Wisconsin Elections Commission report found. The use of drop boxes in Wisconsin goes back years.

The City of Milwaukee began using 15 of those drop boxes in 2020, as Jeramey Jannene reported for Urban Milwaukee. I am going to easily estimate that over 70 percent of the ballots are being returned via dropbox,” said Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg. Theyre working really well.”

The drop boxes are secured to the ground and visible via cameras, and have a number of anti-tampering features, the story noted. There have been no signs of anyone tampering with the ballot drop boxes,” Woodall-Vogg said. The boxes are so desirable that occasionally voters from other cities use them, she noted. “We immediately put” ballots from outside the city into the hands of the USPS, she said, in order to help return them “as quick as possible.”

The use of election drop boxes had been approved by the evenly split, bipartisan board of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and was supported by the Legislature’s Republican leaders, as Wisconsin Public Radio reported. “We wholeheartedly support voters’ use of any of these convenient, secure, and expressly authorized absentee-ballot-return methods,” wrote attorney Misha Tseytlin representing Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, in a letter to the Madison City Clerk.

But Donald Trump had by then begun to blast the use of ballot boxes, calling them “a voter security disaster” that “make it possible for a person to vote multiple times.” Trump offered no evidence for this claim, and many observers have suggested ballot boxes are more secure than voting by mail. Ballot drop boxes generally weigh more than 600 pounds and are built to be more secure than the typical USPS mail box. They are also a cleaner process than the mail, avoiding the sorting in which ballots are separated from other mail.

But after Trump lost the election and after some 60 court cases found no evidence of any election irregularities or fraud, the push to prove the Big Lie of a stolen election increasingly led many Republicans to argue that elections laws and procedures needed to be changed.

In a Wisconsin Supreme Court case that threw out a Trump suit challenging the election results in this state, conservative Chief Justice Pat Roggensack not only dissented, but offered an invitation to Republicans to challenge election drop boxes, even as she admitted this had nothing to do with the legal questions the court was ruling on.

“However, because drop boxes are not separately identified as a source of illegal voting in this lawsuit, I will not dwell on the accountability problems they create,” she wrote in her dissent, “but I do not doubt that challenges to drop boxes in general and in specific instances will be seen as problems in future elections. Therefore, we may have the opportunity to examine them in a case arising from a subsequent election.”

Roggensack’s request for such a case was soon answered, as the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a suit after first shopping for a friendly judge. The group picked Judge Michael O. Bohren, a circuit court judge in Republican Waukesha County who was appointed to the bench in 2000 by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, and who has publicly declared himself a conservative supporting a fellow conservative in an election for judge.

Bohren, according to a New York Times story, “presides over a courtroom displaying portraits of a handful of American presidents, all of them Republicans except for George Washington. He declined to be interviewed.”

The case is likely to be appealed all the way up to the state Supreme Court, just as Justice Roggensack hoped. The net effect, if the case if upheld, will likely be a lower turnout in the next election. As with most Republican efforts to make it harder or less convenient to vote, this change will likely reduce the turnout for voters in both parties. But Republicans assume the impact will be greater in Democratic areas like Milwaukee, so they don’t mind if the votes of some Republicans are suppressed as well.

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Categories: Politics

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: How Absentee Ballot Boxes Became Illegal”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Republicans are enemies of democracy.

  2. 45 years in the City says:

    If I understand the fine points of this ruling, even if it would be convenient to get to the single authorized drop box at a city/village/town hall, it would be illegal to drop off a spouse’s or other household member’s ballot. What’s the difference between that and dropping a household worth of properly completed ballots in a USPS blue box?

  3. BriPet says:

    45 Years, no difference. As I understand the ruling, you cannot even take someone else’s ballot to the mailbox, to the clerk, or to the polling site.

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