Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court rejected Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins’s appeal to appear on the presidential ballot, allowing election officials to carry on without having to reprint ballots.
In the 4-3 decision Monday night, conservative justice Brian Hagedorn joined the court’s three liberals to create a majority.
The state’s absentee ballot process has been in limbo for a week after Wisconsin’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court ordered all election officials to stop mailing out ballots until it ruled on Hawkins’s case.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission decided in late August that both the rapper Kanye West and the Green Party candidate did not properly make the filing deadline to appear on the ballot. Hawkins filed a lawsuit against the decision with the state’s high court the first week of September.
The court decided it was ultimately too late in the process to add another name to the ballot.
This is a major relief for election officials who started the absentee ballot process weeks ago in order to meet a state-mandated Sept. 17 deadline to have all requested absentee ballots mailed out. State officials have been warning that any additional delays could have upended the absentee ballot process.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission made its decision to keep West and Hawkins off the ballot on Aug. 20, citing improper filings and missed deadlines.
The case against Hawkins was tenuous. In early August, a Madison attorney had filed a complaint claiming there was a discrepancy involving the listed addresses of Hawkins’s running mate, Angela Walker. The Hawkins campaign said Walker had moved during the signature-gathering process. But Democrats on the commission said it wasn’t their job to establish that Walker had actually moved. In the end, the commission was deadlocked 3-3, with Republican appointees voting in favor of Hawkins appearing on the ballot and Democrats voting against.
In West’s case, the rapper’s representative was filmed entering the Wisconsin Elections Commission building at 5:00:14 p.m. and did not actually organize and file the papers until several minutes after. The six-person commission, which is split evenly between parties, decided on a 5-1 vote that West did not meet the statutory requirement of filing “no later than 5 o’clock.”
As a result, neither West nor the Green Party candidate was certified to be on the ballot.
The court found that the Green Party waited too long to file a lawsuit against the election commission’s decision. Both West and Hawkins sued in the first week of September — two weeks after the commission decided to keep them off the ballot.
“We conclude that the petitioners delayed in seeking relief in a situation with very short deadlines and that under the circumstances, including the fact that the 2020 fall general election has essentially begun, it is too late to grant petitioners any form of relief,” the court found.
Close to a million Wisconsinites have requested absentee ballots this cycle, breaking 2016 records as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a risk for in-person voting. Any changes in the ballots at this stage could have wreaked havoc on the state’s mail-in process.
State records show that 313,598 ballots have been marked as sent, though that number includes ballots that have just been issued mailing labels. Wisconsin officials have no way of knowing how many ballots have actually been mailed to voters.
That said, the effects of the late-stage litigation have already been felt. In Madison, the state’s capital, City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said she had voters canceling their absentee ballot requests after hearing of the initial court ruling temporary halting the absentee ballots. Voters said they were opting to go to in-person polls, even during the pandemic, to avoid any chaos in the courts, Witzel-Behl said. Others with travel plans have called in confused about whether to change their addresses to account for any possible delays.
Cities are dealing with unprecedented changes due to the pandemic ― record high numbers of absentee ballot requests and changes in polling stations and safety procedures have been occupying election officials’ time for months. Cities now have a shorter time period to process all the printed ballots and mail them out to voters.
And there’s still a chance of more litigation. West, whose lawsuit in a circuit court failed last week, is expected to appeal the decision to keep him off the ballot.
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