Wisconsin Supreme Court Delays Absentee Ballots
A party-line vote may scuttle mail-in voting in a crucial swing state.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“Wisconsin Supreme Court says mailing of absentee ballots should be halted while Green Party lawsuit is considered“):
The state Supreme Court told election officials Thursday that absentee ballots should not be mailed for now so the justices can determine whether they should include the Green Party’s presidential ticket.
So, on the one hand, we have a reasonable case in controversy. If the Green Party should rightfully be included on the ballot, mailing out some ballots without their inclusion will have irreparable harm. On the other hand, it’s mid-September and the election is just over seven weeks away.
The 4-3 order left open the possibility of reprinting 2.3 million ballots and delaying the printing of others — moves that election officials said would cause them to miss deadlines set by state law.
One would think that, if state law sets a deadline for mailing ballots, it would set deadlines for such things as resolving disputes as to who gets on the ballot.
The order fell along ideological lines, with the conservatives in the majority and the liberals in dissent.
I confess to not being that familiar with Wisconsin politics but I’m going to go out on a limb and challenge that framing, anyway. It almost surely fell along partisan lines with the Republicans in the majority and the Democrats in dissent. Indeed, were it to have fallen along ideological lines, one would expect the opposite result: conservatives saying that it’s too bad for the Greens but they should have challenged sooner and the law’s the law and liberals ruling that ballot access is paramount.
In response to the order, the state Elections Commission submitted a report late Thursday that suggested as many as 378,000 ballots have already been sent to voters. But the head of the commission said there was no way to know for certain how many ballots have been sent because that duty falls to municipal clerks, not the commission.
Adding candidates to the ballots after some have been sent would be complicated. Voters who have already been sent a ballot would need to get a second one and clerks would have to make sure no one voted twice.
So, it’s already too late.
County officials expressed frustration with the court handling the case so near the deadline for sending ballots to voters. Those concerns were noted in a spreadsheet they filled out for the commission that was later provided to the court.
“We feel this is almost impossible at this point,” Monroe County told the commission.
Milwaukee County noted it has 475 different ballots.
“If Milwaukee County is forced to stop printing, and begin designing, testing, and printing a new ballot, we will not be able to meet the state and federal deadlines,” Milwaukee County reported.
In its order, the court told the commission to advise municipal clerks that they should not mail any absentee ballots until further order of the court.
Most ballots have already been printed and requiring them to be reprinted with the names of more candidates could cause significant delays, according to election officials. Those delays could make it harder for some voters to cast ballots, particularly those who live overseas or are serving in the military.
From a practical standpoint, then, the ruling makes no sense. We’re too far along in the process to change the ballots and, even if we weren’t, it would be very expensive and cumbersome to do so. And for what? Adding a vanity party that has no chance of winning—but some chance of siphoning off crucial votes from Democrats—to the ballot.
State law—which the court has the power to waive—requires ballots be mailed by September 17. Federal law—over which the court has no power—requires that ballots be mailed to overseas military personnel by September 19. It would be impossible to meet those deadlines if the ballots had to be reprinted. And even moreso since the court isn’t even planning on ruling until after the election commission provides information they don’t have.
As to the merits:
The Green Party case centers on whether presidential nominee Howie Hawkins and vice presidential nominee Angela Walker should be on the ballot.
The Elections Commission didn’t include the Green Party on the ballot after it deadlocked last month on the issue. Walker, a Milwaukee native, provided two different addresses on her campaign filings, and the three Democrats on the commission said that should keep the Green Party off the ballot. The commission’s three Republicans wanted the Green Party on the ballot.
So, here too, the decision was along party lines and self-interested. Again, ideologically speaking, Republicans should be arguing that making a technical mistake on the filing was disqualifying and Democrats should be arguing that democracy is a higher value. Elections commissions appointed along partisan lines are, quite naturally, incapable of being neutral.
Unspoken at last month’s commission meeting was how the Green Party could affect the presidential election. Democrats fear the liberal party could take votes away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republicans hope such a situation will help GOP President Donald Trump.
Trump won Wisconsin four years ago by less than 1 percentage point. The Green Party candidate in 2016, Jill Stein, received more votes than Trump’s margin of victory.
Again, I have little knowledge of Wisconsin election law and thus have no opinion on whether the Green Party is entitled to be on the ballot. But the decision should certainly have been made by now.