By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday rejected the Green Party presidential candidate’s request to be added to the state ballot, ruling that it came too late for any relief “that would not cause confusion and undue damage” just seven weeks before the election.
The 4-3 ruling blocks a third-party candidacy that Democrats had feared could hurt Joe Biden in this narrowly divided battleground state. It also clears the way for local clerks to resume mailing absentee ballots to more than 1 million voters who have already requested one.
Election officials had warned of significant delay and chaos had the court ordered Howie 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.
Conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joined the court’s three liberals in the majority. Their unsigned opinion said the Greens delayed seeking relief and “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 voters and candidates.
Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, writing for the minority, accused the state Elections Commission of improperly disqualifying Hawkins and his running mate over issues with the running mate’s address. She also said lawsuits take time to put together and local clerks knew that the Greens would likely sue.
“This lawsuit is not about the Green Party sleeping on its rights. It is about the treatment that independent candidates from a small political party received from the Commission,” Roggensack wrote.
Both West and Hawkins got help from Republicans who saw them as likely to siphon votes from Biden in a state that Trump carried by only about 23,000 votes four years ago. 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.
Hagedorn, who once worked as former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s legal counsel, angered conservatives in May when he sided with liberals against revoking Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order. He said then he was elected to “apply the law as written.” He also joined liberals in January in a case brought by conservatives seeking to purge as many as 200,000 voters from the rolls.
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.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond also contributed to this report.