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A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday allowed absentee ballot boxes to remain in place for the Feb. 15 statewide spring primary election for local offices, but said it will decide later about their legality going forward.

The court agreed to take the case, as requested by a conservative group, but did not lift a stay on a lower court ruling declaring that no ballot boxes could be in place beyond those at municipal clerk’s offices. A state appeals court put the stay in place.

“Vacating the stay would also likely cause substantial harm to the defendants and the public interest,” the court said in its decision issued Friday evening. “The February 2022 election process is already underway.”

The fight is being closely watched in battleground Wisconsin as Republicans there push to limit access to absentee ballots following President Joe Biden’s narrow win over Donald Trump in 2020. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson are on the ballot in November.

Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who sometimes sides with liberal justices, again proved himself to be the deciding vote in the 4-3 ruling. Three conservative justices dissented and argued that the stay should have been lifted to disallow absentee ballot boxes immediately.

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