Wisconsin Republican leader says party may need to embrace absentee ballot drop boxes (2024)

MADISON – The leader of the Wisconsin Republican Party is not ruling out urging voters to utilize absentee ballot drop boxes during the fall presidential election even as Republicans are in court seeking to stop their use.

Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Brian Schimming said twice this week he will urge Republicans to take advantage of all forms of voting, including returning ballots to drop boxes, if the state Supreme Court overturns a ban on the use of drop boxes in a case the liberal-controlled court will likely decide in the coming weeks.

“I have spoken nationally, in the state, and at local levels about the need for Republicans to be realistic and if the state law that affects this election says we’ll have drop boxes or we end up with ballot harvesting, we’re going to do what it takes to win,” Schimming told reporters Saturday at the state GOP convention in Appleton. "All I can tell you as chairman is I'm not going to leave any potential advantage that we might have on the table. Period."

Earlier this week, Schimming also said in an interview with WisconsinEye he is "not going to sit around and leave tools on the table."

"You have to deal with reality when you're state chair," he said in the WisconsinEye interview. "I can see a situation where we have to deal with a change in state law on drop boxes ... but we'll be ready for all that."

Schimming's comments come as the state GOP and Republican National Committee have urged justices on the state Supreme Court not to overturn the court's previous ruling banning the use of ballot drop boxes that are not inside election clerks' offices.

"There is no justification here — special or not. Voters must deliver their absentee ballots in one of twoways: by mail or in person, to the municipal clerk. Drop boxes do neither," attorneys for the state and national GOP wrote in a brief to the court as part of the lawsuit under review.

"Like anything of value, elections are targets for malicious actors. Even if fraud is rare, it is still a threat. And because elections are the very essence of our democracy, it is essential that people perceive them to be run according to the highest standard of integrity," the attorneys wrote.

"Short-circuiting those safeguards — and imposing a novel drop-box requirement that the Legislature never enacted, the Governor never signed, and the voters never ratified — would contravene the manifest purpose of the statute."

Supporters of drop boxes say clerks have wide discretion over what tools should be used to administer elections in their communities, noting drop boxes had been in use for decades leading up to a 2022 court decision that banned them. Liberal justices on the court questions the conclusion the former conservative majority reached in its 2022 decision.

Wisconsin Republicans have struggled to project a clear message on absentee voting since former President Donald Trump, the 2024 GOP presidential candidate, sought to sow distrust in his election loss in 2020 by blasting the safety of mail-in voting.

Schimming has for months sought to create a public campaign to the party faithful to embrace absentee voting in order to combat Democratic turnout. But at the same time, Trump continues to argue against the idea in visits to the state. During a rally in Waukesha earlier this month and in an interview this week with a local TV reporter, Trump said he his preferred voting strategy is one-day voting with paper ballots.

In an interview with the Journal Sentinel earlier this month, Trump did not commit to accepting the results of the election.

Schimming and the state's top elected Republican, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, urged supporters of Trump at Trump's April rally in Green Bay to also embrace early voting — a form of absentee voting that Democrats have heavily promoted in recent elections.

But when Trump took the stage at a rally in Green Bay, he again sought to dampen trust in the state's election system by promoting the false claim that he would have won the presidential contest in Wisconsin 2020 if it had not been for election malfeasance driven by absentee voting in Milwaukee.

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, a Republican from Janesville who represents the state's 1st Congressional District, conveyed a different message during Saturday's state GOP convention, however.

"If we want to win, if we want to win as Republicans and as conservatives, we need to use every legal tool in the toolkit to get the job done. And that's going to require people going out, voting early, banking the vote, and driving out the turnout in the state of Wisconsin," Steil said.

Molly Beck can be reached at molly.beck@jrn.com.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP leader says party may need to embrace ballot drop boxes

Wisconsin Republican leader says party may need to embrace absentee ballot drop boxes (2024)
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