Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack is seen before the start of the 2019 State of the State speech. Photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism CC BY-ND 2.0
In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied a request to be allowed on the ballot from the Green Party’s candidates for president and vice president, Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker.
The decision was made days after the court ordered that elections clerks across the state halt the mailing of absentee ballots. Clerks are subject to state and federal laws requiring that ballots be delivered to municipalities by Sept. 16, be mailed to people who have previously requested them by Sept. 17 and be mailed to voters in the military or overseas by Sept. 19.
At issue in the lawsuit was the validity of the Green Party’s nomination papers, which after a failed 3-3 vote, the Wisconsin Elections Commission did not accept on the basis that Walker included multiple addresses on her paperwork.
Two weeks after the WEC ruling, the Green Party filed its lawsuit and the court delayed the work of clerks. The majority decision, joined by the court’s three liberal justices, Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky and conservative Brian Hagedorn, stated that a decision this late in the process would throw the election into chaos and confusion.
“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 that would be feasible and that would not cause confusion and undue damage to both the Wisconsin electors who want to vote and the other candidates in all of the various races on the general election ballot,” the opinion states.
“Under the circumstances presented here, it would be unfair both to Wisconsin voters and to the other candidates on the general election ballot to interfere in an election that, for all intents and purposes, has already begun,” it continued.
With the ruling, the state’s 72 counties will not have to bear the cost of redesigning and reprinting ballots, but the delays will have a cost.
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Chris Astrella, the clerk of the Town of Oakland in Jefferson County, says that the county was waiting to deliver ballots to municipalities until after the ruling, which came late on Monday afternoon — meaning Astrella won’t get the ballots for the voters in his town until Tuesday morning.
Astrella says he’s already done all the work that could possibly be done ahead of time, but even in a small town with more than 700 absentee ballot requests, the delay means he will probably miss the statutory deadlines because it will take a few days for him and his staff to fold ballots and stuff them into the already prepared envelopes.
The wait, he says, means he’s worried for the small group of voters from his town who are currently in Australia, “as far away as you could possibly be,” he says, who will be crunched for time as their ballots cross the planet — twice.
Overseas voters are able to receive ballots by fax or email, but ballots must be mailed back to municipal clerks, potentially saving at least one leg of the trip.
The dissenting justices, Patience Roggensack, Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler, painted the decision as a blow to American democracy and pointed fingers at the WEC’s deadlocked vote.
“This abdication of responsibility undermines ballot access and voter choice. Today our court overrides the will of voters of Wisconsin in determining who the candidates will be — violating the sacred system of democracy that is the bedrock of the United States of America,” Ziegler wrote.
The three dissenting opinions all argue that the Green Party’s nominating papers should have been accepted despite the discrepancy in addresses listed for Walker. None of the dissents addressed the fact that some forms listed Walker as living at different South Carolina addresses on the same day.
“Silently affirming lawless conduct that has been brought to the court’s attention is an abdication of the court’s obligation to stand with the law, even when doing so is uncomfortable,” Roggensack wrote.
Bradley in her dissent compared the majority decision to the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in the Jim Crow South. A statement reminiscent of her reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Korematsu decision — which allowed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II — when she voted to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“America has witnessed such tactics in the past,” Bradley wrote. “History repeats itself, as Wisconsin’s highest court rewards rather than rebuffs such unlawful maneuvers. In 1968, Alabama state officials left black candidates off the November general election ballot, in response to some comparably concocted but meritless challenge. The United States Supreme Court ordered Alabama to hold a new election, with the excluded candidates appearing on the ballot. Ironically, the majority in this case adopts the mantra of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, caving to its fearmongering invocation of ‘chaos’ should the court dare to right this wrong.”
The Green Party candidates are seen by Democrats as potential spoilers for Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — as is another independent who has been excluded from the Wisconsin ballot, hip-hop artist Kanye West.
The legal teams making the challenges for both the Green Party and West have ties to the Wisconsin Republican party.
In 2016, independent candidates for the Green Party and Libertarian Party drew more than 100,000 votes in a state President Donald Trump won by 23,000.
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