Political observers on Friday were alarmed by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling restricting the use of drop boxes for absentee election ballots—not just because the decision will make it harder for many residents to vote, but also because the high court's right-wing majority openly embraced in its ruling former President Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election.
In the 4-3 decision, the court's conservative justices argued that the use of ballot drop boxes is unlawful because the boxes are not explicitly mentioned in the state's laws, which allow for absentee ballots to be returned to a municipal clerk.
"After the GOP lost Wisconsin in 2020, the GOP decided that the issue wasn't that they couldn't convince voters to support them—it was that people who didn't support them were able to vote."
The return of a ballot "does not mean nor has it been historically understood to mean delivery to an unattended ballot drop box," wrote Justice Rebecca Bradley in the majority opinion.
Bradley continued that the state's longtime use of hundreds of drop boxes "directly" harmed Wisconsin voters in 2020, when President Joe Biden won the state by about 20,000 votes, beating former President Donald Trump.
Trump and his allies took aim at the drop boxes after the election, saying their use is not explicitly allowed under state law and filing a number of lawsuits.
Bradley suggested that anyone who used a drop box for an absentee ballot did not qualify as a "lawful" voter and said their method of voting "weakens the people's faith that the election produced an outcome reflective of their will."
"The Wisconsin voters, and all lawful voters, are injured when the institution charged with administering Wisconsin elections does not follow the law, leaving the results in question," she wrote, adding that "throughout history, tyrants have claimed electoral victory via elections conducted in violation of governing law" and comparing Biden's win to that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern called the language used in Bradley's opinion "outrageously irresponsible."
With the ruling, said journalist John Nichols, the right-wing majority "is not acting as a court. It's a political cabal with a partisan agenda."
The Wisconsin Democrats called the ruling "a slap in the face to democracy itself" and warned that the absence of ballot drop boxes that many voters have used for years will "impact people with disabilities, seniors, people living in rural communities, people with limited means, few transport options, and inflexible work schedules, who are disproportionately young people and people of color."
"For decades throughout Wisconsin, municipal clerks have used drop boxes to collect documents like tax returns, municipal bills—and absentee ballots," said Ben Wikler, chair of the state Democratic Party. "It's always been safe, secure, and convenient. Drop box use expanded dramatically in 2020, in red and blue areas alike."
"But then after the GOP lost Wisconsin in 2020, the GOP decided that the issue wasn't that they couldn't convince voters to support them—it was that people who didn't support them were able to vote," he added.
The three justices who dissented in the ruling denounced Bradley's claims of rampant illegal voting in 2020 as "nonsense."
"There is no evidence at all in this record that the use of drop boxes fosters voter fraud of any kind," they wrote. "None... But concerns about drop boxes alone don't fuel the fire questioning election integrity. Rather, the kindling is primarily provided by voter suppression efforts and the constant drumbeat of unsubstantiated rhetoric in opinions like this one, not actual voter fraud."
The court's right-wing justices also ruled in November that a new redistricting plan should make the least amount of changes possible to maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011, ensuring a map that will favor GOP majorities in Wisconsin for at least another decade.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is also overseeing an investigation into the 2020 election and has suggested that state lawmakers should try to decertify the results.
Friday's ruling came "from what might be the most rogue and vehemently anti-democratic state court in the nation," said Daniel Nichanian, editor-in-chief of Bolts.