As business leaders, we believe that a high level of social trust is essential in building strong organizations and communities. Responsible business leaders work hard to demonstrate every day that the relationships between employees, managers, and customers are fair and transparent. Further, in order for all of us to be successful, our businesses must operate within a system of democratic government that engenders the trust of all segments of society.
In our view, the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling to outlaw ballot drop boxes is a step against rebuilding trust, taken without any justification that arises from the law or the genuine concern for the integrity of elections.
Without dwelling on the legal merits of the case, it is quite clear that nothing in the law required this conclusion, as dissenting Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in part:
“Can delivery to a drop box constitute delivery ‘to the municipal clerk?’ Absolutely. A drop box is set up by the municipal clerk, maintained by the municipal clerk, and emptied by the municipal clerk. This is true even if the drop box is located somewhere other than within the municipal clerk’s office. As stated, the ‘ municipal clerk’ in the statutes is a person, and the ‘office of the municipal clerk’ is a location. Applying this principle, there is nothing in the statute that even hints that unstaffed drop boxes are impermissible.”
So why make this radical change? After all, not all Wisconsinites are free to take time off from work to stand in poll lines on Election Day. Nor can all employers afford to give employees paid time off to vote. Absentee ballots that must be returned by the voter to the polling clerk during that office’s hours of operation present a problem for many workers, especially those who juggle more than one job, do not live near a polling office, or do not have a car. Similarly, depositing ballots into a US Postal Service mailbox cuts days off the time span available to vote. All of these obstacles hit lower-paid workers the hardest.
A very odd feature of the majority opinion is a certain rhetorical jujitsu. First, it reminds us that claims of fraud were made regarding the 2020 election in Wisconsin. However, no widespread fraud was found in any of the investigations, audits, and reviews done by myriad organizations — including the group that filed the Teigen case. The logical conclusion is inescapably that we have a process people can trust. Not so fast. Remember, some politicians continue to say that “people have a lot of questions about the 2020 election.” Why does anyone still have any questions? Because these politicians keep saying people question the elections. The Court has gone out of its way to give oxygen to this dangerous lie that has already been systematically debunked.
Perhaps the most galling head scratcher is this bit from Justice Rebecca Bradley in the majority opinion:
“Throughout history, tyrants have claimed electoral victory via elections conducted in violation of governing law. For example, Saddam Hussein was reportedly elected in 2002 by a unanimous vote of all eligible voters in Iraq (11,445,638 people). Examples of such corruption are replete in history. In the 21st century, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was elected in 2014 with 100% of the vote while his father, Kim Jong-il, previously won 99.9% of the vote. Former President of Cuba, Raul Castro, won 99.4% of the vote in 2008 while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was elected with 97.6% of the vote in 2007… Even if citizens of such nations are allowed to check a box on a ballot, they possess only a hollow right. Their rulers derive their power from force and fraud, not the people’s consent. By contrast, in Wisconsin elected officials ‘deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ “
What? Are we being told that prior to the elimination of drop boxes our state was comparable to Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria? Pardon us if we didn’t all go to law school, but this sort of false equivalence would not only fail to win approval for a business case at any of our companies, it would call into question the rationality of the speaker.
Wisconsinites have the right to feel that they have a stake in a system that is fair and rewards hard work, and good faith. Regrettably, as long as this ill-conceived judgment stands, many of those who work hardest in our communities will now feel disenfranchised and disillusioned, and not without reason.
David Irwin is the Waukesha-based founder and general partner of Hiawatha Group. He formerly served as business president at Fiserv Inc. Cory Nettles is the managing director of Generation Growth Capital Inc. He is the former Wisconsin Commerce Secretary. Both are members of the steering committee for Wisconsin Business Leaders for Democracy.
This article originally appeared on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Opinion: Wisconsin Supreme Court errs in outlawing ballot drop boxes