The Elections Commission made “every possible effort” Thursday afternoon to gather the information the Wisconsin Supreme Court wanted on absentee ballots that may have already been sent.
But the commission was unable to pull it together due to the state’s decentralized election system.
The Supreme Court directed the commission to gather the information as it weighed whether to take a suit the Green Party filed to get its presidential candidate on the ballot.
That information included which voters had requested absentee ballots and if they’d already been mailed, when they were sent and to what address.
In the meantime, the court ordered a temporary halt to the mailing of absentee ballots
In an affidavit filed with the court late Thursday, Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said the agency heard back from 63 of the state’s 72 counties and 25 of the 1,850 municipalities despite sending a mass email, using an emergency alert system and following up with calls.
Wolfe said the poor response rate from municipal clerks wasn’t surprising since many work part-time. The commission provided what it could from municipal clerks on those who had requested absentee ballots. But without responses from the other clerks, the commission couldn’t provide all of the requested information, Wolfe said.
One document the commission sent to the court included information from the counties on how many ballots they’d already printed. Dane County had the most completed at 491,000, followed by Waukesha County at 379,930 and Milwaukee County at 331,015.
That document also included feedback from clerks, who expressed frustration and highlighted a host of issues — including cost and the likelihood of missing statutory deadlines — raised by the prospect of reprinting ballots.
“I hate the words fair and unfair but I find it unfair that Cou(nty) Clerks were/are put in this position of trying to make decisions when the courts are not acting expeditiously,” Chippewa County Clerk Jaclyn Sadler wrote. “This should not be happening the week before ballots are to be mailed out.”
The court has ordered a pause on the mailing of absentee ballots until it rules on the Green Party’s request to take the case and issue an order that would put Howie Hawkins on the presidential ballot. The Elections Commission split 3-3 on whether to include the party’s nominee after a challenge was filed to its nomination papers.
Wolfe warned ahead of the release of the order that it would be “incredibly complicated and difficult” to add Hawkins or entertainer Kanye West to the ballot. West’s lawsuit is pending in Brown County Circuit Court.
Those who have already been sent a ballot would receive a second, updated ballot as well as instructions stating the first ballot would only be voided if the second ballot was also turned in.
The court’s order came a day after the Green Party submitted a letter to the justices arguing the Elections Commission hadn’t provided evidence that ballots had been mailed to voters.
The party’s lawyer also submitted an affidavit from the Jefferson County clerk that she could still meet the deadline of distributing ballots to municipal clerks by Sept. 16 as long as any changes were made before noon tomorrow.
The letter and affidavit were in response to testimony provided to the state from Wolfe and various county clerks. Green Party attorney Jacob Curtis argued the testimony showed ballots had been printed, but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to show they’d been mailed. Curtis argued the data the commission has on “Ballots Sent” could include those for which mailing labels have been printed and not necessarily mailed.
The state Department of Justice responded Wednesday urging the court to reject the submission. The agency argued the court had already rejected a request from the Green Party to file a response brief in the case. It argued the letter was an end-run around that denial and DOJ hadn’t been given the opportunity to respond to the new evidence.
The agency also argued the Jefferson County clerk doesn’t have knowledge of whether the other 71 counties could meet the Sept. 16 deadline if they had to restart the printing process.
See the information from counties:
See information from municipal clerks on the number of absentee ballots requested: