Wisconsin Supreme Court Delays Mailing of Absentee Ballots

September 11, 2020 by Dan McCue
Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in sorting trays at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash., south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily delayed the mailing of absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election as it considers whether to order the addition of the Green Party presidential ticket.

The 4-3 decision in which all of the liberal-backed justices dissented, has the potential to create real headaches for the local board of elections.

The order by the court comes just a week before the state-imposed Sept. 17 deadline to send out requested absentee ballots to registered voters.

The conservative majority on the court also asked the Wisconsin Elections Commission to provide it with information on whether any ballots have already been mailed out, and if so, to whom — no easy task in a decentralized elections system that includes 72 counties and 1,850 municipalities.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who dissented from the ruling, said the court had given the election commission an impractical task.

“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,” Bradley wrote.

Many clerks have already printed ballots in anticipation of a surge in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far it is believed at least 2.3 million ballots were printed before the court issued its order, and at least 378,482 have already been sent out.

Many more jurisdictions were expected to send out ballots this weekend.

The underlying case was brought by Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s 2020 presidential candidate.

He and his running mate, Angela Walker, were kept off the ballot due to allegations that Walker listed an incorrect address on thousands of her nominating petitions. With that challenge to her signatures, she fell below the threshold to secure a spot on the ballot.

The Green Party appealed that decision, but in August the Elections Commission split 3-3 on the question of adding them to the ballot, handing the decision to the court.

Meagan Wolfe, the state’s chief elections official, said on a press call, that it would be “incredibly complicated and difficult” if the court ultimately orders the ballots to be changed.

“This is potentially a huge disaster,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell agreed, telling the Associated Press that “just the delay of a decision is deeply irresponsible and jeopardizes the integrity of our election.”

The situation is also raising eyebrows among political observers who are well aware of Wisconsin being a battleground state and just how close elections can be in the state.

Democrats are also smarting at the fact the Green Party is litigating the lawsuit, because of the role they believe the Greens played in Donald Trump’s victory in the state in 2016.

That year Green Party candidate Jill Stein received just over 31,000 votes, and Trump bested Democrat Hillary Clinton by a margin of less than 23,000.

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