State News

Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling halts mailing of absentee ballots

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is ordered to provide absentee ballot information in order for the court to consider a petition that would put Green Party candidates on the ballot. 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is ordered to provide absentee ballot information in order for the court to consider a petition that would put Green Party candidates on the ballot. 

Image By: Courtesy of Mark Baylor via Creative Commons

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Thursday that municipal clerks should pause their mailing of absentee ballots until a ruling is made on the Green Party’s bid to be on the ballot. 

Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, Green Party candidates for President and Vice President, asked the court to take up a challenge of a Wisconsin Elections Commission decision to keep them off the 2020 general election ballot. 

The ruling ordered the commission to advise municipal clerks that they should not mail any absentee ballots until the court has made a further order on the ballot contents. 

The ruling also stated that the Wisconsin Elections Commission is required to provide the court with “definite factual information about whether and when absentee ballots have, in fact, been printed, requested and mailed.” 

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolde told reporters before the order was issued that some ballots have likely been mailed out but was unsure how many. The WEC does not have specific information on already mailed absentee ballots because local election clerks handle the mailing process. 

If municipal clerks have mailed ballots as of 12 p.m. Thursday, the commission must obtain information on when each ballot was sent and the elector’s name and address. 

The WEC is required to provide this information in a “readable and understandable format” by 5 p.m. Thursday. If the WEC cannot obtain the information from municipal clerks, the commission will need to tell the court what information is not included and why it was unable to obtain it.  

Wolfe said in an affidavit after the 5 p.m. deadline that 63 out of 72 countries and only around 25 out of 1,850 municipalities responded, according to Patrick Marley from the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. 

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Frank Dallet and Jill J. Karofsky, who make up the court’s liberal minority, dissented in the ruling. 

“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.  

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell said in an email that if the Supreme Court were to change the ballot, the county would have to redesign, test, print, package and deliver 500,000 new ballots. Municipal clerks would also have to print new labels, stuff envelopes and mail the new ballots. 

The email said that Madison has nearly 100,000 absentee ballot requests. As of Thursday, 153,134 absentee ballot requests have been filed in Dane County, according to Wisconsin Elections Commission data. Nearly 1 million ballots have been requested statewide. 

Clerks must send absentee ballots to those with requests on file by Sept. 17, but voters will still be mailed a ballot if they make requests before Oct. 29. 

“This is potentially a huge disaster. Just the delay of a decision is deeply irresponsible and jeopardizes the integrity of our election,” McDonnell said of the ruling. “Ballots have been and are being delivered to communities across Dane County as we speak.”

McDonnell was also concerned about the rights of overseas and military voters “in light of the challenges we have seen with the U.S. Postal Service.” The federal deadline to mail ballots to those voters is Sept. 19. 

Wolfe told reporters that clerks may need to send out second ballots and ensure that no more than one ballot is counted from each voter if candidates are added. 

The Wisconsin Elections Commission also denied Kanye West from being included on the ballot after his paperwork was turned in late last month. According to the Associated Press, a Brown County judge is expected to rule within days on West’s lawsuit, which could cause further mailing delays. 

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