A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected the Green Party's request to place presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on the state's slate, giving local clerks the go-ahead to begin sending out absentee ballots to voters.
The 4-3 decision — which had conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the court's three liberals to form a majority — found it was too late for Hawkins to be added, citing the "very short deadlines" and "the fact that the 2020 fall general election has essentially begun."
"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," wrote the majority.
The Monday decision lifts an earlier court directive last week, which barred clerks around the state from mailing out absentee ballots as justices considered the case. It also saved clerks from having to reprint hundreds of thousands of new ballots over the next few days.
At the time, some local clerks worried they wouldn't be able to send out ballots to military and overseas voters by the federal deadline of Sept. 19. Clerks face a Thursday deadline, as set in state law, to do so.
As of Monday, over 1 million Wisconsin voters have requested absentee ballots, according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell on Monday expressed relief in light of the decision, writing in an email: "I am very happy that the Court respected the difficult job we have as election administrators and that voters will get their ballot in a timely manner so they can vote safely."
The county, per WEC's tally, has more than 155,000 absentee ballot requests on file.
In Madison, the city clerk's Twitter account announced officials would be "working late so we can start mailing out absentee ballots first thing in the morning."
Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said workers were poised to begin sending out the nearly 100,000 ballots voters requested last week Thursday and continue all through the weekend if it hadn't been for the court order.
In Monday's decision, conservatives Pat Roggensack, Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler all wrote dissents. In hers, Bradley likened leaving off the Green Party off Wisconsin's 2020 ballot to forcing Black candidates off the Alabama ballot in 1968.
The majority decision, she wrote, "undermines the confidence of American citizens in the outcome of a presidential election" and is a "grave threat" to the republic.
Hawkins' lawsuit to gain ballot access came after a divided Elections Commission deadlocked 3-3 along party lines to keep him from being listed as a presidential candidate. But the challenge didn't come until two weeks after that Aug. 20 decision.
The crux of the issue was the address of his vice presidential contender, Angela Walker. She listed two different addresses on nomination signature paperwork to get on the ballot. The situation led to the body deadlocking 3-3 along party lines over whether the party's candidates should be added. Because a majority wasn’t reached, ballot access wasn’t granted.
Although the campaign said Walker had moved, officials failed to file an amended declaration of candidacy or take other steps as staff said they'd recommended.
Hawkins' campaign was aided by supporters of President Donald Trump, the candidate suggested in a recent interview with The Washington Post. Asked about whether Republicans financed the legal action, he told the publication: "You get help where you can find it. They have their reasons and we have ours."
The campaign's lawyers, Andrew Phillips and Matthew Thome of Milwaukee-based law firm von Briesen & Roper, also represent the Wisconsin Counties Association, which gave some local officials pause, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Separately, fellow independent presidential contender, rapper Kanye West, was also kept off the ballot after staff found his campaign was late in turning in his nomination papers. He has also taken to the courts seeking to overturn the decision, but a Brown County judge on Friday rejected his lawsuit.
He's expected to appeal the decision with the Supreme Court Monday, though he could face an uphill battle to gain approval given the court's ruling in the Hawkins case.
In 2016, then-Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 31,072 votes, or 1.04%, according to WEC data, while Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson received 106,674 votes, or 3.58%. Trump carried the state by 22,748 more votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton.
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