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Wisconsin Republicans change their minds on ballots ahead of state Supreme Court ruling

If the Wisconsin Supreme Court restores widespread use of ballot drop boxes, Republicans in this key battleground state say they will be ready to encourage their voters to use them in this year’s presidential election — even if they strongly criticized this method of voting. in the past.

Wisconsin Republicans say it will be part of a multi-pronged approach in anticipation of increased use of drop boxes in the state, with another element likely to be a surveillance program aimed at detecting fraud and abuses by Democrats.

The strategy underscores an ongoing shift in attitudes toward early and alternative voting methods within the GOP nationally. Until recently, Republicans up to former President Donald Trump had falsely claimed or implied that drop boxes were a source of fraud in the 2020 election.

“We need to treat the law as it is, not as we wish it was or as we hoped it would one day be,” state Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming told about the possibility that the party’s approach to legality and use of drop boxes could change. “We have to deal with things as they are, not maybe as we wish they were sometimes, and that’s going to apply to drop boxes.”

It would be “malpractice” not to ensure that Republican voters who want to use them do so if their use is expanded, Schimming said.

“That doesn’t mean we have to like them. That doesn’t mean we won’t fight them in court if they increase the risk of problems,” he added.

Schimming and other Republican officials said this approach — in favor of drop boxes and early voting in general — predated Monday’s oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in which a liberal majority signaled that it was poised to overturn a decision less than two years ago that had banned the use of most ballot boxes for absentee ballots. If the court decides to actually reinstate the use of most boxes, it would have big consequences for the presidential election in the state.

National Republican Party officials were reluctant to provide details about Wisconsin’s plans, citing the hypothetical nature of the state Supreme Court’s decision, which has not yet been announced, but they said the Future approach would certainly include monitoring the state’s election processes, including drop boxes. , for fraud and incitement to Republicans to take advantage of the voting methods offered to them.

“Wisconsin law, in a case decided only two years ago, clearly prohibits drop boxes,” Claire Fortenberry Zunk, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. She accused Democrats of “rushing to open the system to fraud and chaos as the presidential election approaches.”

“Regardless of the outcome, we urge all Republicans to plan to vote whichever method is best for you,” she said.

Appearing to accept the possibility that drop boxes will return in Wisconsin this fall indicates that some Republicans have increasingly emphasized the importance of early and mail-in voting.

While Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting have made it harder for Republicans who see a desperate need to encourage more ways to vote, Trump himself has begun to soften his stance. In recent weeks, he posted on Truth Social that “mail voting, early voting, and Election Day voting are all good options,” urging Republican voters to “make a plan, register, and vote!” »

However, some The Republicans refused to give up of the narrative that drop boxes were subject to fraud and abuse by Democrats in the 2020 election and said the approach if the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides to expand their use could include monitoring efforts to ensure that no fraud occurs. (There is no evidence to suggest that fraud or abuse occurred during the use of drop boxes in Wisconsin’s 2020 elections.)

Democrats largely embraced drop boxes in the 2020 election and are expected to do so again this fall.

Schimming said there were several “options on the table” — “and some of them might be observing drop boxes.” The Republican National Committee has promised to deploy up to 100,000 volunteers and lawyers to battleground states to protect the vote, and Schimming doesn’t rule out that drop box monitors could be among them.

He also doesn’t rule out the idea that state Republicans might encourage their supporters to practice “ballot harvesting” — a phrase conservatives use to describe when mail-in ballots are filed or mailed to local election clerks’ offices by persons other than those voting. Republicans have long denounced this practice, which remains a gray area in Wisconsin law.

“I have to have him as an option on the table,” Schimming said.

Wisconsin law remains silent on the issue of ballot drop boxes. State officials used them sparingly for decades but expanded their use during the 2020 elections, which took place amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of 2021, the number of absentee ballot drop boxes had increased to 570. They were in 66 of the state’s 72 counties, according to court documents. Milwaukee and Dane counties — which are Democratic strongholds — had 29 drop boxes between them.

In a case brought by conservative groups, the state Supreme Court ruled in July 2022 that Wisconsin voters casting absentee ballots would no longer be able to drop them off in ballot drop boxes anywhere except election clerks’ offices. The court said only the Legislature — controlled by Republicans — has the authority to enact laws and policies regarding mail-in ballot drop boxes, not the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

But after liberals won back the court’s majority last year, the progressive political action committee Priorities USA filed a lawsuit explicitly seeking to overturn the 2022 decision.

Republican critics said the drop boxes were an illegal and unconstitutional device that helped increase turnout in the heavily Democratic counties in which they were primarily located. An amicus brief filed in the current case by the state Republican Party and the Republican National Committee claimed to have overturned the 2022 decision and expanding their use would “sow chaos” in the 2024 elections. Democrats and progressives in the state have filed numerous briefs urging the court to overturn its 2022 decision.

The plethora of briefs from both parties underscores how close elections are in Wisconsin — where four of the last six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point.

The legal shift on the broader issue reveals that both sides understand what is at stake, said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, the state branch of the national nonpartisan government watchdog group.

“It might make a difference in margins,” said Heck, whose group filed an amicus brief in favor of overturning the 2022 decision. “But you know, small margins are important in the Wisconsin.”

News Source : www.nbcnews.com
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