The Corner


Did Biden Win Wisconsin Because the Green Party Was Denied Ballot Access?

Democratic presidential nominee and former vice president Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., October 28, 2020 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As was the case in 2000, 2004, and 2016, the presidential election in Wisconsin has been decided by less than one percentage point. 

With all votes counted, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 0.6 points in Wisconsin — about 20,000 votes out of 3.3 million ballots cast. 

The slim margin raises the question of whether the decision to keep the Green Party off the ballot in 2020 over a technicality decisively tipped the Wisconsin election in Biden’s favor.

In 2016, when Donald Trump won Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes, Green Party candidate Jill Stein won 31,000 votes. It’s obvious that not every Green Party voter would have gone to Hillary Clinton in 2016 if they’d not been given the opportunity to vote for Stein, but it’s reasonable to think just enough might have voted for Clinton if they had not had the opportunity to vote for their first choice.

So did the decision to keep the Green Party off the ballot in 2020 become a decisive factor in Trump’s Wisconsin loss? I think the answer is probably not. Support for the Green Party dropped between 2016 and 2020 in other midwestern states where the party was on the ballot both years. 

In Michigan, the Green Party presidential candidate won 51,000 votes in 2016 but fewer than 14,000 votes in 2020.

In Minnesota, the Green Party won 37,000 votes in 2016 but only 10,000 votes in 2020

In Iowa, the Green Party won more than 11,000 votes in 2016 but only 3,000 votes in 2020.

So there’s every reason to believe that the Green Party would have seen a similar decline in support in Wisconsin if voters had been given the opportunity to vote for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

With that said, it’s still fair to criticize the Democrats on the Wisconsin Elections Commission for playing legal hardball and successfully fighting to keep the Green Party off the ballot over a technicality. The six-person commission split 3–3 on partisan lines over denying ballot access to the Green Party because the vice presidential candidate — who had moved because of the pandemic — was listed at two separate addresses on the nomination papers submitted to the commission. 

In a 4–3 decision, a majority of the Wisconsin supreme court declined to rule on the merits of commission’s decision to deny ballot access; the majority concluded it was too late to reprint the ballots with the Green Party listed. “Even if we would ultimately determine that the petitioners’ claims are meritorious,” the majority ruled, “given their delay in asserting their rights, we would be unable to provide meaningful relief without completely upsetting the election.”


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