Wisconsin Court Sets Up Possible Delay For Absentee Ballots One Week Before Mailing Deadline

Elections Chief Inspector Mary Magdalen Moser runs a polling location in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in full hazmat gear as the Wisconsin primary kicks off despite the coronavirus pandemic on April 7, 2020. (Photo by DEREK R... Elections Chief Inspector Mary Magdalen Moser runs a polling location in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in full hazmat gear as the Wisconsin primary kicks off despite the coronavirus pandemic on April 7, 2020. (Photo by DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
September 11, 2020 8:13 a.m.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court told state election officials on Thursday that they can’t mail out absentee ballots until the court decides whether to add the Green Party’s presidential ticket to the ballot.

The 4-3 decision was split across partisan lines and comes just a week before Wisconsin’s Sept. 17 deadline to mail the roughly 1 million absentee ballots to voters that have already made requests for ballots by mail across the state.

As the Wisconsin court’s four conservative justices agreed that ballot mailing should be stalled, the three liberal justices pushed for mailing to go forward “given the breadth of the information requested and the minimal time allotted to obtain it.”

Liberal justices on the bench argued the court is “asking the impossible” of the state’s approximately 1,850 municipal clerks.

The possible inclusion of Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on the general election ballot could impact what will likely be a very tight race between President Donald Trump and Democratic  presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The court’s decision to delay ballot mailing is further complicated by a separate case from rapper Kanye West who is also trying to get on the ballot after the commission voted that his nomination papers arrived too late. A Brown County judge said he planned to make a ruling on West’s lawsuit within a few days, potentially further delaying an already fraught ballot-mailing process with a looming deadline of just one week. 

In 2016, Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, won 31,006 votes in the state, which exceeded Trump’s 22,177-vote margin over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The inclusion of West, could further shave votes away from what polls show could be a slim margin between Trump and Biden.

While Sept. 17 is the deadline for clerks to mail absentee ballots to voters with existing  requests on file, those making later requests can still receive a ballot by mail. Oct. 29 is the deadline for most voters to request a mail-in ballot. Returned ballots must be received by the time polls close on Election Day.

Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Meagan Wolfe said Thursday, that some clerks may have already mailed ballots without West’s and Hawkins’ names on them, though it was unclear how many went out before the court’s order. 

She said “it would be incredibly complicated and difficult,” to begin printing and mailing new ballots with additional names. 

The court on Thursday asked for the names and addresses of all voters who have been mailed an absentee ballot, as well the date the ballot was mailed. The court has also ordered the commission to provide a list of the names of officials who requested that ballots be printed as well as details about when those requests were made.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin Republicans successfully blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to delay the state’s primary elections until June. The U.S. Supreme Court also reversed a lower court’s ruling that gave voters a six-day cushion to return their ballots by mail. At least 19 people in Wisconsin who reported voting in-person or working at polling stations in April tested positive for coronavirus, according to the state health department data later that month.

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