Press Release via Competitive Elections Wisconsin.
Open Letter to Rep. Robin Vos, Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly
Wisconsin’s legislature suffers from a serious deficit of democracy. Thanks to restrictive and anti-competitive ballot laws, almost half of Representatives (47 out of 99) were the only name on the ballot in the November 2014 general election. That’s half of voters who got no debate, no discussion, no choice- no real election at all. A similarly large number of races were uncontested in the August primary. In the 12th Assembly District, I was one of many who had no choice in either the primary or the general election.
This is compared to just 9 out of 134 Representatives who ran unopposed in Minnesota. In Michigan all 110 State Representative elections were contested by both major parties. It is hard to believe that people in Wisconsin are that much more disinterested in deciding who their legislators are.
Voters are, in fact, viscerally disgusted when they go to the polls only to find that their time has been wasted with slates of unopposed candidates. So why do our State Assembly elections look more like the selection of a Soviet Politburo or House of Lords than a freely-elected American state legislature?
The problem is simple. For all offices in Wisconsin, the number of signatures required for nomination petitions is too high. These levels are set such that incumbents and candidates with party backing can meet them with ease, but upstart challengers are often scared off from even attempting it. This is often couched in terms of “serious candidates only” – a decision that is surely for voters to make.
This policy harms voters by denying them a debate and a choice, but it also wastes taxpayer resources as the Government Accountability Board scrambles to scrutinize tens of thousands of signatures by statutory deadlines. This process, where candidates are invited to try to kick each other off the ballot based on technicalities, serves no legitimate public interest. The argument against an overcrowded ballot strains credulity in the face of severely under-crowded ballots.
A simple and obvious measure which could be taken to help fix this problem, before the 2016 election, would be to reduce the number of signatures required on nomination petitions by half, across the board. This would bring Wisconsin in line with the norm in neighboring states, and greatly reduce the number of uncontested elections. Such a modest reform would also not require any other substantive changes to the structure of Wisconsin’s election laws.
All voters should demand free, open, fair, and competitive elections, where all ideas can be heard and considered as part of our civic discourse. Citizens who wish to engage in the democratic process as candidates, should not face unreasonable barriers to entry. Any legislator who ran unopposed in 2014 should be challenged to support this necessary change, as should all Representatives who value the integrity and legitimacy of Wisconsin’s elections. I urge you to give this proposal serious consideration, before Wisconsin has a State Assembly where an outright majority of Representatives were not meaningfully “elected” at all.
Secretary, Libertarian Party of Wisconsin
Midwest Regional Director, Our America Initiative
Lead Coordinator, Competitive Elections Wisconsin
“We support election systems that are more representative of the electorate at the federal, state and local levels. … We oppose laws that effectively exclude alternative candidates and parties, deny ballot access, gerrymander districts, or deny the voters their right to consider all legitimate alternatives.” – Platform of the Libertarian Party
Competitive Elections Wisconsin is a joint project of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin and Our America Initiative, led by Libertarian Congressional candidate and IPR contributor Andy Craig.