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Right decision

A democracy is forever on a tightrope. It is always only one false step away from tumbling into tyranny. It is no small feat for a democracy to retain its balance. It gives power to an elected leader, but it can never give too much power such that the leader cancels the next election to stay in office.

In a democracy, politics cannot be everything. Country must come first. Otherwise, you don’t have a next election and democracy crashes to the ground. And that’s why we praise Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Brian Hagedorn, who, despite being part of the court’s Republican-leaning conservative majority, placed country over party on Monday and cast the deciding 4-3 vote to sustain the Wisconsin Election Commission’s (WEC) decision to keep Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins off of the Nov. 3 ballot.

The high court’s ruling will advantage Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent President Donald Trump, by removing a spoiler candidate who would likely draw away votes from left-leaning electors. The decision could make the difference in a close election. Back in 2016, Trump won the presidency by beating Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton by a mere 22,217 votes in Wisconsin. Green Party candidate Jill Stein received 31,006 votes.

The WEC decision was tortured. Green Party candidates Hawkins and Walker on Aug. 4 filed nomination papers to be on the fall Wisconsin election ballot, but, three days later, attorney Allen Arntsen complained to the commission that Walker did not list a correct address on the papers. The WEC voted unanimously to sustain Arnsten’s challenge to 57 signatures but later deadlocked 3-3 on other signatures. In the end, the WEC certified that the Green Party candidates had fewer than the needed 2,000 required signatures to get on the ballot, but not happily. The three Democrats on the WEC fought to keep the Green Party off the ballot. The commission’s three Republicans fought for the Green Party to be on the ballot.

Within 24 hours after the decision, disgruntled Republican WEC member Bob Spindell recommended an attorney to the Green Party campaign who could challenge the WEC decision before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Green Party filed its lawsuit on Sept. 3.

Supreme Court justices Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler, both members of the Republican- leaning majority, voted to overturn the WEC ruling and place Hawkins and Walker on the ballot. They said keeping the Green Party off the ballot due to unsubstantiated technical reasons was the “ultimate voter suppression” and overruled the will of thousands of people who signed the nomination papers of Hawkins and Walker.

These are powerful arguments, certainly, but miss the point. And that is, a legal election needs to happen. Federal law demands absentee ballots be sent to overseas voters and military personnel by Thursday this week. Ballots have been printed by counties across the state. Trashing the WEC certifi ed ballot and demanding new ballots be printed would have violated election law and thrown the Nov. 3 election into chaos.

The better argument was made by the majority of justices, including Hagedorn, who said election practicalities rule the day. “Even if we would ultimately determine that the petitioner’s claims are meritorious, given their delay in asserting their rights, we would be unable to provide meaningful relief without completely upsetting the election…. [It would] result in confusion and disarray and would undermine confidence in the general election results.”

It is the job of a highly partisan WEC to certify election ballots and the Wisconsin Supreme Court to insure that the WEC follows the law, but it’s not the high court’s job to save democracy by blowing up an election. The court’s narrow vote kept American democracy balanced on the tightrope — where it needs to be.

Editorial by Peter Weinschenk, The Record-Review