By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to halt the mailing of absentee ballots raised concerns that it could cause delays and confusion in the presidential battleground state.
The decision Thursday, 54 days before the Nov. 3 election, was only temporary. However, it’s unclear when the court will make a final ruling that will restart the process of sending ballots to voters. Here’s a look at what’s known so far:
Q: WHAT DID THE COURT DO?
A: Wisconsin Supreme Court action on ballots raises questions. The state Supreme Court ordered an immediate halt to the mailing of absentee ballots to the nearly 1 million voters who had a request on file.
The court also asked for details from the Wisconsin Elections Commission about how many ballots had been requested and mailed already. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, clerks indicated that 380,000 ballots had been sent but that information was incomplete. And clerks indicating in the state’s system that ballots had been sent doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the mail already.
Any ballots that already went out and that voters complete and send back to the state will be counted. If the court orders a change to the official ballot, voters who already received initial ballots will receive the new one. If the new one is also returned, only it will be counted.
Q: WHO FILED THE LAWSUIT?
A: Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins and his running mate, Angela Walker, contested the state elections commission decision not to put their names on the presidential ballot.
The elections commission twice deadlocked 3-3 last month on whether Hawkins had submitted enough valid signatures to get on the ballot. All three Republicans said that he had, while the three Democrats disagreed.
A complaint alleged that Walker listed an incorrect address on thousands of her nominating signatures. That resulted in them not having enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Q: WHAT ABOUT KANYE WEST?
A: The rapper is also trying to get on the ballot in Wisconsin and has filed a separate lawsuit. That case is pending before a judge in Brown County Circuit Court, who said he would issue a decision by Monday.
No matter what the judge decides in that case, it’s almost certain to be appealed quickly to the state Supreme Court. The court will then decide whether either, or both, West and Hawkins should be added to the ballot.
West was kept off by the elections commission on a bipartisan 5-1 vote. They determined that West’s campaign team did not submit its nominating papers until moments after the 5 p.m. deadline.
Q: HOW BIG OF A DEAL IS THIS?
A: Everything that affects voting in swing state Wisconsin, especially less than two months before the Nov. 3 election, is a big deal. President Donald Trump won the state by less than a percentage point in 2016 and polls suggest this year’s race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden will also be tight.
Democrats fear that adding the Green Party candidate to the ballot could siphon liberal votes away from Biden. In 2016, the Green Party candidate got 31,006 votes in the state, which was roughly 8,000 more votes that Trump’s margin of victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Republicans are pushing West’s candidacy, raising concerns from Democrats that they think he could sway voters away from Biden.
Changing the ballot now would be expensive and burdensome for the 1,850 local election clerks tasked with printing and disseminating the ballots. And any delay in sending absentee ballots would shorten the window for voters to return them. There are already widespread concerns about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle the increase in volume. Both parties have been urging voters to request absentee ballots now and return them as quickly as possible.
Q: WHAT ABOUT MISSED DEADLINES?
A: Wisconsin state law requires absentee ballots be mailed by Sept. 17 to everyone with a request on file. That’s nearly 1 million voters. Federal law requires Wisconsin and all other states to mail absentee ballots to military and overseas voters by Sept. 19. Those deadlines were set to give voters plenty of time to return the ballots.
Given those looming deadlines, there is hope that the state Supreme Court will act within days to determine who should and should not be on the ballot.
Q: WHAT ARE OTHER KEY DATES?
A: Oct. 29 is the deadline for most voters to request a ballot by mail. Returned ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, when polls close. There is a pending federal lawsuit filed by Democrats and their allies that seeks to extend the deadlines for people to request and return absentee ballots.
Voters can also choose to cast absentee ballots at their local election clerk’s office or vote in-person on Election Day. The state elections commission has estimated that about 2 million of the state’s roughly 3 million eligible voters will choose to vote absentee by mail.