MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered Monday that the Green Party presidential candidate should not be added to the ballot, clearing the way for local clerks to resume mailing absentee ballots to more than 1 million voters who have requested one.
The 4-3 order comes just seven weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election in this narrowly divided state. Democrats had feared that adding Howie Hawkins to the ballot would take votes away from Joe Biden and assist President Donald Trump. He won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.
Election officials had warned of significant delay and chaos had the court ordered Hawkins added to the ballot. That would have forced clerks to reprint and mail the ballots less than two months before the election.
Rapper Kanye West is also trying to get on the Wisconsin ballot. The court did not address his challenge, which if successful could result in a new ballot being ordered, causing delay.
Both West and Hawkins are getting help from Republicans who see them as siphoning votes from Biden in this narrowly divided state. Attorneys representing the Green Party candidates have represented Republicans in prior legal battles. Several Republicans, including the former attorney for the state Republican Party, are assisting West.
Clerks had already mailed an untold number of ballots before the Supreme Court on Sept. 10 stopped the sending of ballots while it considered the Green Party lawsuit.
Democrats feared a delay in creating and then sending out replacement ballots will confuse voters and dampen turnout. The ruling comes just ahead of a state deadline to send absentee ballots by Thursday to people who have a request on file will not be met. Saturday is the deadline under federal law to mail ballots to military and overseas voters.
Voters in Wisconsin have until Oct. 29 to request an absentee ballot by mail, but election officials have urged voters to act sooner given expected delays in the mail. Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. when polls close on Election Day.
State elections officials have estimated that more than 2 million of the state’s roughly 3 million eligible voters will cast absentee ballots, largely due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Polls show a tight race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and both sides recognize it as one of a handful of states that are likely to determine the race this year.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission in August deadlocked twice on whether Hawkins and his running mate should be placed on the ballot, resulting in them not getting added.
Three Republican election commission members said Hawkins should be on the ballot while three Democratic members said he didn’t qualify because his running mate listed an incorrect address on thousands of nominating signatures.
The state Supreme Court sided with the commission in determining that Hawkins should not be on the ballot.
Adding Hawkins to the ballot could have had a dramatic effect on the outcome of the election. The Green Party’s 2016 presidential candidate, Jill Stein, won 31,006 votes in the state — more than Trump’s 22,748-vote margin over Hillary Clinton.
There are more than 170 lawsuits nationally over election procedures, often filed by the two major parties or their allies, that have injected a new level of uncertainty into a contest already disrupted by the pandemic. Third parties are also going to court to get on the ballot in other states such as Arizona, Pennsylvania and Virginia.