MADISON, Wis. (CN) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday issued a ruling that prevents two Green Party candidates’ late addition to the November general election ballot, which would have required reprinting ballots before over a million of them are mailed out on Thursday.
The court’s split decision found that Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins and his running mate Angela Walker waited too long to challenge their exclusion from the ballot and that granting their request to be added at the 11th hour would exacerbate already chaotic preparations in local municipalities that must mail hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots amid the pandemic before a statutory deadline on Sept. 17.
Finding that the fall election is essentially already underway, the majority concluded that “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 fight over adding the Green Party ticket to the battleground state’s ballot began in August and immediately turned into a partisan showdown over the November election.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked 3-3 along party lines last month over whether to add Hawkins and Walker to the ballot. The commission ultimately decided that because Walker listed two addresses on her campaign nomination paperwork, hundreds of the ticket’s nomination signatures were invalid, leaving the candidates shy of the 2,000 required valid signatures.
Republicans on the commission fought for the Green Party ticket to be added, while the commission’s Democrats resisted.
The Green Party’s addition to the ballot may have resulted in liberal votes being siphoned from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to the benefit of President Donald Trump. The president won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein won 31,000 votes in the state that year.
After Hawkins and Walker petitioned the high court on Sept. 3 to allow them on the ballot, the court decided 4-3 along party lines Thursday to have Wisconsin’s 72 counties and more than 1,850 municipalities stop preparing and sending absentee ballots while the petition was considered.
On Monday, however, conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with the court’s liberal wing, finding that the Green Party candidates were too delayed in bringing their challenge and that they could not be added to the ballot without jeopardizing the integrity of the election.
“Under the circumstances presented here, it would be unfair both to the 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,” the majority wrote.
The court’s other three conservatives fumed at the majority’s decision Monday in dissenting opinions.
Chief Justice Patience Roggensack took the majority and the elections commission to task for not following the letter of the law in presuming all of Hawkins and Walker’s nomination signatures were valid after they were challenged in a verified complaint filed with the court in early August by a retired Madison attorney, a process she contends lacked transparency.
“This lawsuit is not about the Green Party sleeping on its rights,” Roggensack said. “It is about the treatment that independent candidates from a small political party received from the commission, who repeatedly refused to follow the law relative to nomination papers.”
Roggensack thumped the majority for being silent on the commission’s rule-breaking, saying that “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.”
Justice Annette Ziegler, another conservative, went even further, saying “the people deserve better” and laced into the majority for shirking its duties “in perhaps one of the most important cases in a judicial lifetime.”
“It is ultimate voter suppression when a candidate who presumptively belongs on the ballot is denied ballot access,” Ziegler wrote, pointing out that the short nine-page majority opinion did not address the merits of the Green Party’s arguments and instead just said it was too late to print new ballots, a contention Ziegler disagreed with.
“The majority failed this state’s and this country’s election process,” Ziegler said. “It deprives the Wisconsin people of a voice and strips them of one of the most fundamental tenets of this republic: the right to express one’s will at the ballot box.”
A third conservative, Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, called the majority decision “outrageous acquiescence” that caters to the elections commission after it had clearly broken the law and charged the majority with “caving” to the elections commission’s “fearmongering invocation” of chaos that would result from the court ordering new ballots to be printed.
“In dodging its responsibility to uphold the rule of law, the majority ratifies a grave threat to our republic, suppresses the votes of Wisconsin citizens, irreparably impairs the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections, and undermines the confidence of American citizens in the outcome of a presidential election,” Bradley said.
The Green Party candidates were represented by attorneys with von Briesen & Roper. The petitioners’ attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday evening.
Badger State liberals were quick to applaud the supreme court’s decision.
Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, issued a statement thanking election officials for their hard work and kept his comments brief: “election chaos averted.”Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, tweeted Monday evening that the high court’s ruling is a “major victory for democracy.”