By Garret Wassermann, Green Party of Pennsylvania, and Dave Schwab, Green Party of Wisconsin
The Democratic Party has a long history of trying – often successfully – to remove Green Party candidates from the ballot, and 2020 was no exception. Wisconsin, Texas, and Pennsylvania all saw coordinated Democratic Party efforts to keep Greens off the ballot last year.
In Wisconsin, Greens submitted 3,966 signatures to place Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker on the ballot. Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) staff validated 3,737 signatures, with only 2,000 needed for ballot access. However, a Democratic attorney challenged nearly 2,000 of the validated signatures because Angela Walker moved in July and some of the petitions listed her previous address. Although the Wisconsin Greens had informed WEC staff about Walker’s move and followed their instructions, Democratic members of the WEC board upheld the challenge, denying the Hawkins/Walker ticket a place on Wisconsin’s ballot.
After the WEC’s decision, the Hawkins/Walker campaign began searching for a lawyer licensed in Wisconsin to file their appeal. According to the campaign, they spent days contacting liberal and Democratic-affiliated attorneys, but none would take their case. Eventually, they had no choice but to hire a lawyer associated with the Republican Party, which was quickly seized on by media outlets that attempted to create a scandal out of Hawkins and Walker exercising their right to counsel. The furor grew when they filed their appeal in September. Democrats nationwide claimed, delaying the printing of ballots while the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard the case, would prevent voters from getting absentee ballots in time. In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled against Hawkins and Walker. They said it was not based on the merits of the case, but in their opinion, it was too late because county clerks, despite a pending ballot access lawsuit, had already started printing ballots. Much of the media coverage was blatantly partisan, such as Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC story which headlined “Court foils Republican Green Party scam to sap Democratic votes.”
Meanwhile, the Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA), anticipating ballot access trouble due to the global coronavirus pandemic and the state governor’s stay-at-home orders, quickly filed in US Federal Court to seek ballot access relief. However, the US Federal Court ruling ultimately declared that any such relief would “seriously and irreparably harm the State,” forcing GPPA supporters to obtain the needed 5,000 ballot access petition signatures, putting themselves at personal risk during a pandemic.
Ultimately, GPPA was successful, filing over 8,000 valid petition signatures from registered voters before the legal deadline. The Democratic Party of Pennsylvania (PADEMS) then immediately filed a challenge to the petition, claiming that many of the signatures were invalid for various reasons. Thanks to the quick mobilization of volunteers to audit the signatures and verify them against registered voter lists, including calling voters to verify they are still alive after PADEMS claimed some voters were deceased, GPPA was able to survive the signature challenge. Although it significantly drained GPPA resources.
The PADEMS then argued that paperwork was incorrectly filed for the presidential ticket, in part due to one form being electronically submitted to the office instead of delivered in person, even though offices were closed to the public during the pandemic due to the governor’s emergency order. The state Commonwealth Court initially ruled that Hawkins would be listed on the ballot, while Walker would not due to the incorrect paperwork. After an appeal to the state Supreme Court by the PADEMS, the courts ultimately ruled in a 5-2 decision that both Hawkins and Walker would be stripped from the ballot due to paperwork “defects.” It is notable that Pennsylvania elects its judges in partisan elections;
The ongoing Democratic Party lawsuit in Pennsylvania meant the state could not print ballots until it was determined who would be on the ballot. Many newspapers and magazines took advantage of the situation in order to bash the Green Party even though it was the Democratic Party that initiated the lawsuit. “No, Mail-In Ballots Won’t Be Available On Monday. Blame the Green Party” declared a September 2020 headline from Philadelphia Magazine. These attacks were particularly ironic given the state only first adopted paper ballots, which could be used for mail-in voting, in 2020 after a lawsuit settlement with Jill Stein and state Green Party members. The state Democratic Party and Democratic Governor Tom Wolf had argued against paper ballots for years. On top of that, the Democratic Party’s action delaying the printing of Pennsylvania’s absentee ballots came days after the Democrats began attacking Wisconsin Greens for supposedly delaying ballot printing.
GPPA has already had its first ballot challenge of 2021, as Democratic Party members filed to eliminate Marlene Sebastianelli from the ballot in a special election to replace the state senator in the 22nd district. The challenge frivolously claimed the Green Party was not recognized as a minor party under state law and was almost immediately withdrawn, but it is a sign the Democratic Party intends to continue pursuing a strategy of legal action to keep Green candidates off the ballot.
In Texas, the Democratic Party initially won a lawsuit kicking several Texas Green Party (TXGP) candidates off the ballot for not paying filing fees. The filing fees, as much as several thousand dollars, were brand new in 2020 due to a recent law change and made the filings prohibitively expensive for some candidates. As a result, the Green Party had not paid the fees while it was awaiting a court decision on the constitutionality of the ballot fees. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled in September that three TXGP candidates should be placed back on the ballot immediately. While the ruling was overall good news, it came too late for some candidates, including a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court itself, who dropped out due to eligibility and cost questions around the original lawsuit.
The best way to prepare for future attacks on ballot access for Green campaigns is to volunteer for your state party’s ballot access efforts and help raise legal defense funds.