The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered three Green Party candidates to be restored to the November ballot after Democrats successfully sued to remove them in a move that will delay the roll-out of mail-in ballots and has already disrupted the voting process for military and overseas voters.
The move comes more than two weeks after the Texas Secretary of State’s Office formally finalized ballots on Aug. 31.
“The state did not give us any warning at all that something was in the works that could potentially change the ballot weeks after certification,” said Nacogdoches County Elections Administrator Todd Stallings. “I would have never dreamed of it.”
Stallings said his office was on track to send out mail ballots to more than 2,000 local voters this week, but the plans have been scrapped because of the court decision. Republicans and Democrats have both launched initiatives to get voters over 65 to use mail-in ballots and avoid going to the polls in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My best guess now is it may be closer to Oct. 1 before mail ballots go out to local voters,” Stallings said. He later added, “I want people to know that your county government hasn’t failed you. This is a state-level problem. Locally, we were ready to go and did everything correct.”
The ruling leaves election administrators like Stallings scrambling to update overseas and military ballots by the Saturday mailing deadline and sending new, corrected ballots to replace any that had already been mailed.
“I already sent them ballots last week. They can receive ballots via email. And I contacted them today to let them know I’d have to send them new, corrected ballots. Several have expressed frustration, understandably,” Stallings said.
Last month, a state appeals court sided with the Democrats, who were seeking to kick the candidates off the ballot because they had not paid filing fees. The three candidates are David Collins for U.S. Senate, Katija “Kat” Gruene for Railroad Commission and Tom Wakely for the 21st Congressional District.
The Texas Green Party appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Tuesday that the secretary of state “shall immediately take all necessary actions to ensure these candidates appear on the” November ballot. The Supreme Court did not give its rationale, but said a full opinion was forthcoming.
“We’re really thrilled and we applaud the court for honoring equal treatment and voter choice. We just really feel like the right of the people to access the ballot and build a political party for that purpose should be a nonpartisan issue in a democracy,” said Green Party of Texas co-chair Laura Palmer said.
A law that went into effect in 2019 began requiring Libertarian and Green Party candidates to start paying filing fees or submitting petitions like Democratic of Republican candidates. Neither Libertarians or Greens hold primaries and nominate candidates through local, county and national conventions.
While the Democrats were initially successful in booting the three Green Party candidates off the ballot, Republicans more recently failed in their bid to remove 44 Libertarians from the ticket for a similar reason. In rejecting the GOP effort earlier this month, the Supreme Court said the party waited too long to raise the issue.
Ballot access has been a struggle for both parties in a political landscape dominated by Republicans and Democrats. Each state has its own ballot regulations.
“Every state that we can secure ballots access in is one more step forward,” Palmer said.
The Green Party focuses on issues such as climate change and social justice, regularly leading to complaints that it siphons votes away from Democrats. Libertarians, who promote limiting the scope of government, are often believed to draw votes from Republicans. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president in 2016, received 159 votes in Nacogdoches County, finishing fourth. In the same election, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received 702 votes.
A person responding to a message sent to the Nacogdoches County Green Party’s Facebook page said the organization “is no longer active” here. The group’s page has not been updated since 2016.
The Texas Tribune contributed to this story.