Connecting state and local government leaders
Both the Green Party candidate and rapper Kanye West are fighting to appear on the ballot in a state expected to see razor thin margins during the 2020 presidential election.
A week before the deadline to mail out absentee ballots, the Wisconsin Supreme Court told election officials to put mailing efforts on hold until the court decides whether to add the Green Party’s presidential candidate to the ballot. The decision could be hugely consequential in the upcoming presidential election, given that Donald Trump won the state in 2016 by a smaller number of votes than the Green Party candidate earned that year.
The state Supreme Court split along party lines when issuing their ruling on Thursday, with the court’s four conservative justices arguing for a halt in processing absentee ballot applications and the three liberal justices dissenting.
Local election officials were alarmed by the ruling, which they said comes far too close to the September 17 deadline by which the state’s 1,850 municipal clerks need to mail out absentee ballots to those who have requested them. At least 2.3 million ballots have already been printed with President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as the only candidates. As many as 378,482 ballots may have already been sent out to voters.
The court asked for the Wisconsin Election Commission to gather “definite factual information” from local clerks about how many ballots may have already been printed or sent out before they make a final decision about whether to include the Green Party on the ballot or not, but only gave the commission a few hours to do so.
The Election Commission sent out a request for information from local clerks, but many failed to respond in the short timeframe. In their dissent from the court’s ruling, liberal justices said that the demand was unreasonable. "Given the breadth of the information requested and the minimal time allotted to obtain it, I fear that the majority of this court is asking the impossible of our approximately 1,850 municipal clerks throughout the state," the justices wrote.
The Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, is one of two presidential candidates whose petitions to appear were rejected by the Wisconsin Election Commission. The other is rap superstar Kanye West, who launched a last-minute bid for the White House in July. Several reports indicated that West is working with Republican political strategists to get on the ballot in swing states, which could end up siphoning away votes to Biden and, therefore, help Trump.
West, whose paperwork to appear on the ballot was turned in a few minutes after the deadline, filed a lawsuit to contest the decision. On Friday, a judge ruled the elections commission correctly decided to keep West off the ballot, but that decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Hawkins, whose rejection by the Election Commission had to do with whether the signatures on his petition contained the proper mailing address of his vice presidential running mate, has defended his bid to remain on the ballot.
“Thousands of voters in Wisconsin signed petitions to put the Green Party on the ballot,” he said in a statement. “These voters want more choices than the Democratic and Republican Party.”
In the 2016 election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received just over 31,000 votes in the state, more than the 22,748-vote margin that brought Trump to victory in the state over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Along with other swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Michigan, Wisconsin was won by former President Barack Obama in 2012 but flipped to Republicans in 2016.
If Hawkins or West are added to the ballot, local clerks will have their work cut out for them. Those who responded to the frenzied request for information from the Election Commission last night said that the potential costs and time involved in making the changes would be astronomical.
“I find it unfair that county clerks were/are put in this position of trying to make decisions when the courts are not acting expeditiously,” wrote Chippewa County Clerk Jaclyn Sadler. “This should not be happening the week before ballots are to be mailed out.”
Redesigning the ballot in both English and Spanish, testing the new ballot, then reprinting and resending would place a huge burden on already stressed local election officials, wrote Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell. He said that the decision potentially sets up “a huge disaster” and that there was no way the changes could be made by the September 17 deadline.
“Just the delay of a decision is deeply irresponsible and jeopardizes the integrity of our election,” he wrote.
Editor's note: This story was updated after publication to include the judge's decision about Kayne West's push to get on the ballot.
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.