(CNN)The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided on Monday to keep the Green Party candidate off the presidential ballot, ending a legal dispute that briefly threw the state’s mail-in voting plans into chaos, and clearing the way for clerks to mail out ballots this week as planned.
“We would be unable to provide meaningful relief without completely upsetting the election,” the Supreme Court wrote in its 4-3 decision.Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered local clerks to stop sending out ballots — creating an impasse that threatened to derail the mail-in voting procedures in the key battleground state. Wisconsin state laws require clerks to mail ballots to voters who asked for them by Thursday. “The most likely state of current affairs is that municipal clerks have already sent out hundreds, and more likely thousands, of those absentee ballots. Ordering new ballots to be printed would be an expensive and time-consuming process that would not allow counties and municipalities to meet the statutory deadlines for delivering and sending ballots,” the Supreme Court wrote on Monday. The court split differently than it had last week when it stopped the mailing of ballots, with one conservative justice on Monday joining the three liberals to form a majority.Read MoreOrdering local clerks to add Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins to the ballot at this late stage would “create a substantial possibility of confusion among voters who had already received, and possibly returned, the original ballots,” the court added.Democrats will claim the ruling as a win for their nominee, Joe Biden, because Hawkins could have played spoiler in a state that had one of the closest margins in 2016.In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received 31,072 votes in Wisconsin, more than the 22,748-vote margin that handed Trump a victory in the state over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.Nearly 1 million voters in Wisconsin have requested ballots, and more than 378,000 of those ballots have already been prepared by local clerks to go out to voters, and some have been sent out, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission, which says it scrambled to collect data from thousands of local officials to comply with the court’s order.Wisconsin’s chief elections official, Meagan Wolfe, told the court she doesn’t know how many of those ballots have already been sent to voters.Last week, some of the more than 1,800 municipal clerks across the state said in court filings that they were extremely concerned about the possibility that the Supreme Court would order new ballots to be printed and disseminated.One clerk said it “will not be attainable” to meet the deadline if the court says ballots need to be re-printed. Another said it was “unfair” for the court to put clerks in this position so close to the deadline. Others said it would be expensive to re-print ballots at this late stage, and one clerk warned of widespread “voter confusion,” saying, “We are too far in the process for this to occur.”Voting during the pandemic in Wisconsin has already been the subject of legal fights. Republicans who insisted on keeping the state’s April 7 primary on schedule won two legal battles in the spring, as the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to delay it until June and the US Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that gave voters six extra days to return their ballots by mail. At least 19 people in Wisconsin who said they voted in-person or worked the polls tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state health department later that month.Hawkins was one of two candidates that was denied a position on the general election ballot by the Wisconsin Election Commission. The other is rapper Kanye West, who has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn that decision. That lawsuit is still pending and could also impact the ballot-printing process.This story has been updated with additional reporting.