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Wisconsin Justice Department appeals ballot drop box ruling

"Department of Justice" sign.
Syuji Honda
Stock Adobe
"Department of Justice" sign.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is appealing a judge's ruling restricting the use of absentee ballot drop boxes.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed notice with Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren on Thursday that he is appealing Bohren's ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeals. The judge ruled Jan. 13 that drop boxes can be located only in local election clerks' offices and no one other than the voter may deposit an absentee ballot in them.

Wisconsin election law is silent on drop boxes. The Wisconsin Elections Commission advised local clerks in 2020 that they can place drop boxes anywhere. With that guidance in hand, election officials in a number of Wisconsin cities placed drop boxes in multiple locations, including in city parks, during the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats support such efforts, saying it makes voting more convenient and using drop boxes is safer than standing in long lines at the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans have been pushing to restrict their use after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, saying having so many drop boxes opens the door to fraud. The GOP has been unable to produce any evidence of any widespread fraud in the 2020 election, however. Numerous lawsuits, recounts and other probes have upheld Biden's victory and determined there was no widespread fraud.

Bohren's ruling is part of a lawsuit two Milwaukee voters filed in June against the Wisconsin challenging the use of drop boxes. The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is representing them. The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is represented by the DOJ, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Wisconsin Faith Voice for Justice and the League of Women Voters oppose the action.

The defendants asked Bohren on Friday to stay his ruling, arguing that the drop box changes will confuse voters so close to the Feb. 15 spring primary election and lead to disenfranchisement. Bohren refused and gave the election commission until Monday to withdraw its advice telling clerks they can put drop boxes anywhere.

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