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Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court ruled Friday that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and that no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person, dealing a defeat to Democrats who said the decision would make it harder to vote in the battleground state.

However, the court didn’t address whether anyone other than the voter can return his or her own ballot by mail. That means that anyone could still collect multiple ballots for voters and, instead of using a drop box, put them in the mail.

Republicans have argued that practice, known as ballot harvesting, is ripe with fraud although there has been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin. Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without the assistance of others.

Supporters argue drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can’t be lost or delayed in transit.

The decision sets absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and the fall election; Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are seeking reelection in key races.

Johnson and other Republicans hailed it as a win for voter integrity.

“This decision is a big step in the right direction,” Johnson said.

Evers and other Democrats said the ruling will make it more difficult for people to vote.

“It’s a slap in the face of democracy itself,” said Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.

The court’s 4-3 ruling also has critical implications in the 2024 presidential race, in which Wisconsin will again be among a handful of battleground states. President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state by a similar margin.

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