MADISON, Wisconsin – The conservatively controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered Thursday to stop sending postal ballot papers pending clearance or a future decision on who should vote in the critical battlefield state.
The resolution creates confusion in the Wisconsin vote one week before a state’s deadline for postal ballot papers to be sent to those with filing requests and less than two months before the November 3rd presidential election. Polls show a close race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Local election officials warned of what even a temporary delay would mean.
“This is potentially a major disaster,”
In Madison alone, 100,000 postal voting requests had been submitted and the electoral staff had planned to work all weekend to get them out, he said. If the court ordered changes to the ballot, Dane County would have to print, package, sort, and deliver 500,000 new ballots.
The verdict came on a lawsuit brought by the Greens presidential candidate Howie Hawkins, who asked the state’s Supreme Court to accept his challenge to a decision by the Wisconsin Elections Commission that prevented him from voting. The commission got bogged down in August whether Hawkins had submitted the correct filing.
Rapper Kanye West is also trying to get into the vote in another case after the commission voted 5-1 that his nomination papers were too late. West argues that his papers, accepted a few minutes after the 5:00 p.m. deadline, qualifies for him to be put on the ballot. A Brown County judge said he hoped to be able to rule on West’s lawsuit within days, which could lead to further delays in sending out ballot papers.
Whether West and Hawkins get to vote could have a significant impact in razor-sharp Wisconsin. The Green’s 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein won 31,006 votes in the state, more than Trump’s 22,177 votes clear of Hillary Clinton.
The state’s Supreme Court said in a 4-3 ruling, split on ideological grounds, that ballot papers cannot be sent at this time. Local election officials stand by September 17 to send postal ballot papers to anyone who has requested one. There is also a September 19 deadline to send ballots to overseas and military voters. By Thursday, nearly 1 million postal ballot papers had been requested in Wisconsin.
While September 17 is the deadline for white-collar workers to send postal ballot papers to those who have already filed a motion, a ballot paper will still be mailed to anyone who applies later. October 29th is the deadline for most voters to request a ballot in the mail. Returned ballot papers must be received by the voting deadline at 8 p.m. on election day.
Wisconsin Election Commissioner Meagan Wolfe said Thursday, shortly before the court’s order, that some employees may have already sent ballots without West and Hawkins’ names. If West or Hawkins went to vote, employees would likely send a new election to voters, Wolfe said. Voters would also likely be given instructions telling them their first ballot would still count if they didn’t send in the second, she said.
This scenario is “incredibly problematic,” said Wolfe.
The Supreme Court asked the Electoral Commission to provide detailed information by 5:00 p.m. Thursday on who requested a postal vote, whether any had been sent, to whom it was sent, when it was sent, and to what address.
Wolfe’s filing as of the deadline revealed that local employees marked approximately 380,000 ballots as dispatched. However, she said she could not personally vouch that the information was correct.
For example, the table shows that the city of Madison marked approximately 77,000 ballots as sent. The town clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said the town had everything ready, but things were frozen after the court ruling and nothing was in the mail.
Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the city has flagged that many ballots have been sent in the statewide voter registration system and the commission cannot distinguish between what is marked sent and what is actually going out. He said Madison officials may have decided to mark a ballot as mailed on the date they created the shipping labels.
Wolfe said the commission received replies from 63 counties out of 72, but only from 25 parishes. She gave the court the names and addresses of about 100 voters who had requested ballots.
The court’s three liberal judges disagreed, saying, “Given the breadth of information requested and the minimal time available to obtain that information (the court), the impossible is being demanded by our 1,850 town clerks across the state . “
Gillian Drummond, a Justice Department spokeswoman who represented the electoral commission, declined to comment. Hawkins’ attorney did not immediately return a message.
Election officials have urged voters to return their ballot papers as soon as possible amid concerns about slower mail delivery and the unprecedented number of postal ballot papers expected. State election officials have estimated that more than 2 million of the state’s roughly 3 million eligible voters will cast absentee votes, mainly due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
There are more than 170 election process lawsuits across the country, often filed by the two major parties or their allies, that have added a new level of uncertainty to a competition that has already been disrupted by the pandemic. There was also litigation over attempts by third parties like the Greens or candidates like West to vote in other states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Virginia.