By Scot McCullough
Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court announced its decision to keep Green Party Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins and his Vice Presidential running mate Angela Walker off of the ballot for the November election. This close to the election, the court ruled that they “would be unable to provide meaningful relief without completely upsetting the election.” Election officials across the state have been preparing and printing mail-in ballots to send out to voters this week, and they raised concerns that they would not be able to re-print ballots to accommodate late-stage changes while still mailing ballots in time.
Many Democrats regard the Supreme Court decision as having prevented the “spoilers” in the Green Party from sowing electoral chaos. However, a closer look at events reveals that this issue can be traced back to anti-democratic ballot restrictions enforced not by the Republican Party, but this time by the Democrats.
On August 20th, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is chaired by a Democrat, met to discuss, among other things, a challenge brought against the Hawkins/Walker paperwork to be on the ballot (the meeting minutes can be found here). The basis of the challenge against the Green Party candidates is that a number of the signed nomination papers submitted list an outdated address for Angela Walker because Walker moved during the course of the campaign. The challenge was brought forth by Allen Arntsen, a retired lawyer in Madison and a Democratic Party donor. Arntsen filed the challenge with attorneys Jeffrey Mandell and Douglas Poland, who have worked for the Democratic Party and Governor Evers and describe themselves as “attorneys who have played a role in a number of lawsuits concerning how democracy works in Wisconsin.”
In response to the challenge, the three Democratic Party members on the Commission voted to strike 1,834 signatures from the nomination papers. The three Republican Party members on the Commission voted not to strike them. Somehow, this tied vote went in favor of the challenge against the signatures and they were struck, leaving the Greens with 1,846 signatures, just shy of the 2,000 needed to make the ballot.
The meeting notes say that the Commission received no written response from the Green Party and so “without a sworn response, the Commission is left with the complaint that raises legitimate arguments as to what address was supposed to be on what papers, and when.” However, both the Hawkins/Walker campaign and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack (in her dissenting opinion) say that a Green Party representative appeared at that Elections Commission meeting and was prevented from presenting their case by the meeting chair.
The argument today is that the Supreme Court had no choice but to deny ballot access to the Greens because of when ballots need to be delivered. There simply wasn’t time to, as the decision says, “provide meaningful relief.” A delay would have caused more ballots to be invalid because of errors in voting, or the potential for people to receive an old ballot, or people not getting the correct ballot in time. This may have been worse, in the immediate sense, than the wrongs of keeping Hawkins and Walker off the ballot. I am sympathetic to (but not convinced by) the argument that reprinting and delays could be worse.
But to blame the Green Party for sowing electoral chaos is nonsense. This was a major attack on the basic democratic right not only to vote but to vote for what you choose to vote for. And yet the Democratic Party is spinning their coordinated attacks on independent electoral efforts as protecting democracy.
The justification Democratic Party operatives used for removing the Greens from the ballot was an asinine technicality with classist implications. Again, the reason for Walker’s address change is that she moved – less than five miles away – to a new apartment. Like many working class Black women, Walker is a renter and therefore more likely to move in the middle of a campaign than a homeowner.
But it’s not that Democrats are sticklers for bad rules. It’s worse. This bureaucratic maneuvering was undertaken to shape the outcome of the November’s election in the Democrats’ favor. The majority of the commentary and reporting on this case make it clear that to most people, and especially to the Democratic Party, this case was about a fear of Biden “losing votes” to the Greens. Wisconsin is a swing state, and many here still blame Jill Stein (not the electoral college) for Trump’s win in 2016. The Democrats think that anyone else on the ballot will hurt their chances of winning and so they are apparently willing to put in a lot of effort into opposing the presence of additional options on the ballot. The Democratic Party acts as if it is entitled to the votes of millions of people, but at the same time, it must prevent people from making a different choice.
Voter disenfranchisement is rampant in the United States, and it takes many different forms. Some forms of disenfranchisement have become great talking points for liberals and Democrats – gerrymandering, purging of voter rolls, and voter IDs, to name a few. However, we see right now that Democrats fight for voting rights in only the most self-serving way. The Democratic Party, it is clear, does not fight for the right to vote, but only for the right to vote for them.
There is no doubt that the Republican Party is also acting with all of the worst intentions right now. The Republican Party does have a longstanding strategy of sowing chaos, of trying to split their opposition, and of preventing as many people as they can from voting at all. Trump has regularly attacked mail-in voting and the USPS for the purpose of restricting voter access and confidence. The Republicans on the Elections Commission and their stooges among the dissenting Supreme Court Justices are no champions of democracy for their self-serving votes to have Hawkins/Walker on the ballot. The two-party duopoly has been maintained by both parties over the decades, with each of them playing the role they need to at different times.
Basic democratic rights in this country are constantly under attack, and we must fight to protect what we have and to further expand our rights. We cannot make the mistake of thinking that the Democratic Party, which has shown itself to be the second-most anti-democratic party in the US, will somehow save democracy and save us all simply because they aren’t the first-most anti-democratic party.
The removal of independent candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker from the ballot (and the restrictions imposed on all independent candidates) is an attack on voting rights. This removal was organized by and executed by the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party sowed chaos and confusion through their coordinated efforts to maintain their political power against challengers. Their limited campaigns against gerrymandering do not change this. Attacks on the Greens for fighting for basic ballot access are misguided at best when the Democrats made this a mess in the first place.