Wisconsin Libertarians name and shame unopposed legislators to reform ballot access

Competitive Elections Wisconsin has compiled the following list of forty-seven state representatives who were elected without an opponent on Nov. 4, 2014, out of the ninety-nine members of the Assembly elected every two years. The group’s motto says it all about their motive: only one name on the ballot isn’t an election at all.

“This list is a challenge not just to the Representatives who are on it, some through no fault of their own, but to all who value the legitimacy and credibility of the Wisconsin’s legislature,” says Andy Craig, Lead Coordinator for C.E.W.

Craig was a candidate for Secretary of State in 2014, and is seeking the Libertarian nomination to run for Congress in 2016 in Milwaukee’s 4th District. During the last election, he also advised Libertarian, Republican, Democratic, Green Party, and independent candidates who faced challenges to their ballot status. Some of those would-be candidates are now speaking out against Wisconsin’s broken election laws, saying the exclusion of willing candidates serves no public interest.

“I was motivated to run in 2014 because I didn’t like the idea of my incumbent not having an opponent,” says Jerry Seifert, who attempted to run against Rep. Kuglitsch in the 84th District. (New Berlin, Greenfield) “Like a lot of candidates who don’t have major-party backing, and as somebody with a work-related disability on a fixed income, I found the petition process frustrating and futile.”

Others insist a primary election is no replacement. “Primaries are for people who agree with each other to settle on a nominee. They’re no substitute for a contested general election between candidates who disagree on the issues,” says Chuck Schilling, who came less than twenty signatures short of being the only candidate to face the winner of a six-way Republican primary in the 97th District. (Waukesha)

The only legally acceptable justification for the petition requirement, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is to prevent a confusingly over-crowded ballot. Advocates of reform contend that with so many Representatives facing no opposition at all, and no state legislative race having had more than three general election candidates, that justification is demonstrably false and inadequate to uphold the current law.

C.E.W. also points to neighboring states for comparison. In Minnesota, just nine state representatives ran unopposed, and in Michigan all 110 state representative seats were contested by both major parties. Both states make it radically easier than Wisconsin for candidates to get on the ballot.

“Every Representative on this list should be challenged by voters in their district demanding to know why they were elected or re-elected by default, and what reform are they willing to support to change that before 2016,” says Craig.

C.E.W. is proposing that the number of signatures on nomination petitions be cut in half across the board, down to one hundred for Representative to the Assembly. Other possibilities used in other states include the adoption of a low, flat filing fee as an alternative to petitions, or granting Wisconsin’s five qualified political parties the right to nominate candidates of their choice for any partisan office.

“There are many possible ways to fix this problem. The only answer that is unacceptable, is for an incumbent elected without opposition to defend that as somehow justified. If we don’t fix it now, after 2016 we may find that an outright majority of our Assembly wasn’t meaningfully ‘elected’ at all,” warns Craig.

Representatives to the Assembly elected on Nov. 4, 2014 without opposition:
Assembly District: Representative

2: Rep. Andre Jacque
3: Rep. Al Ott
6: Rep. Gary Tauchen
9: Rep. Josh Zepnick
10: Rep. David Bowen
11: Rep. Mandela Barnes
12: Rep. Frederick P. Kessler
13: Rep. Rob Hutton
14: Rep. Dale Kooyenga
16: Rep. Leon D. Young
18: Rep. Evan Goyke
21: Rep. Jesse Rodriquez
24: Rep. Dan Knodl
25: Rep. Paul Tittle
29: Rep. John Murtha
31: Rep. Amy Loudenbeck
33: Rep. Cody Horlacher
34: Rep. Rob Swearingen
35: Rep. Mary Czaja
36: Rep. Jeffrey Mursau
40: Rep. Kevin Peterson
44: Rep. Debra Kolste*
45: Rep. Mark Spreitzer
46: Rep. Gary Hebl
48: Rep. Melissa Agard Sargent
52: Rep. Jeremy Thisefeld
53: Rep. Michael Schraa
56: Rep. Dave Murphy
58: Rep. Bob Gannon
59: Rep. Jesse Kremer
61: Rep. Samantha Kerman
62: Rep. Thomas Weatherston
64: Rep. Peter W. Barca
65: Rep. Todd Ohnstad
71: Rep. Katrina Shankland
73: Rep. Nick Milroy
76: Rep. Christ Taylor
77: Rep. Terese Berceau
78: Rep. Lisa Subeck
80: Rep. Sondy Pope
82: Rep. Ken Skowronski
84: Rep. Michael Kuglitsch
89: Rep. John Nygren
91: Rep. Dana Wachs
95: Rep. Jill Billings
97: Rep. Scott Allen
98: Rep. Adam Neylon

*44th District: opponent withdrew before the election and was not replaced on ballots.

6 thoughts on “Wisconsin Libertarians name and shame unopposed legislators to reform ballot access

  1. Darryl W. Perry

    I’d like to do something like that in NH, but the multi-member districts make it difficult. For example, in a district with five seats, in which two Democrats and five Republicans run; which three Republicans do you list as running unopposed?

  2. Andy Craig Post author

    I wouldn’t call that unopposed, unless I’m missing something. Seven candidates for five seats, bottom two don’t make the cut. I see your point, though. It isn’t exactly a competitive mufti-party race, either, when you factor in how the number of candidates for each party plays into it.

    NH legislature is eighteen different kinds of unique and weird. Mostly for the better, but not entirely. I do wish we had more structural variety in American state legislatures. Too many of our data points are just by reference to New Hampshire, all the others are all so similar (except Nebraska, which isn’t really that different)

  3. Gene Berkman

    Multi-member districts in New Hampshire do sometimes make a difference. In the early 1990s a number of Libertarians were elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives with Republican or Democrat nominations in addition to the LP nomination.

    Earlier however, it sometimes did not work. In the late 1970s a LP candidate in New Hampshire ran for the legislature with both the Republican nomination and the Democrat nomination, but he lost in a multi-member district.

  4. Andy Craig Post author

    “In the late 1970s a LP candidate in New Hampshire ran for the legislature with both the Republican nomination and the Democrat nomination, but he lost in a multi-member district.”

    Sounds like he gave everybody a reason to vote against him. 🙂

  5. Gene Berkman

    This is actually a good issue to highlight, so thanks Andy Craig for taking it on!
    Richard Winger @ Ballot Access News in post-election issues runs a list state by state listing the number of unopposed races for state legislature, so I encourage Libertarians and other alternative party activists to highlight this issue in their state to promote easing restrictions on ballot access.

  6. paulie

    We tried in Alabama. The only thing they managed to do in response was actually make it worse (moving the deadline back a week to March 1). With Oklahoma’s ballot access improvement, we are now tied for the highest percentage of population needed in terms of signatures of any state, and our retention percentage is worse than Oklahoma’s (20% vs 10%).

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