Reformers for ballot access rally to demand change from Wisconsin state legislators who ran unopposed 

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A press release concerning a project I’m working on with a group of libertarian activists in Wisconsin, via Wisconsin for Our America Initiative. -ac 

For Immediate Release
Friday, January 29, 2016

Reformers for ballot access rally at capitol to demand change from state legislators who ran unopposed 

Outraged by a process that keeps too many legitimate candidates off the ballot in Wisconsin elections, a coalition of reformers will be meeting at the Wisconsin State Capitol on February 17, 2016 for their second annual Lobby Day, to demand state legislators who ran unopposed in 2014 act now to ease Wisconsin’s restrictive election laws.

“Wisconsin voters don’t realize how bad it is. The only people who’ve ever been involved in this process who approve of it, are the incumbent politicians who can write a fat check to a professional petitioner and wind up the only name on the ballot,” says Andy Craig, the group’s spokesman.

47 out of 99 Wisconsin State Representatives were the only name on the ballot in the November 2014 elections, and it would have been more if not for those facing only third-party or independent opponents. Even candidates for local nonpartisan races often find themselves facing an arcane and byzantine process funded by national special interests.

Competitive Elections Wisconsin points to the case of Bryn Biemick, a recent candidate for the Racine Unified School Board in the Spring elections. Bryn is an active member of her local community and advocate of education reform and fiscal responsibility, who came within a few points of winning a seat on the board in her previous bid. After submitting over the 100 signatures required- complete with certifications and signed and printed names and legible addresses- the teachers union in Racine challenged her petition. Bryn was notified of the challenge after close of business on Friday and instructed to respond by 4:30 pm on Monday.

The district denied the challenge and kept Bryn on the ballot. The Racine Education Association appealed to the G.A.B. in Madison, which then struck Bryn’s name from the ballot by ruling that she only had 99 valid signatures. Not because that 100th voter had not legibly and clearly signed and stated their intent, but because the handwriting experts in Madison decreed they’d failed to put their full name twice, both signed and printed. This incident was reported on extensively by the Racine Journal-Times over several articles.

Another telling incident occurred in 2014. Richard Martin, Jr. was seeking to mount a campaign for State Assembly. Richard obtained and turned in 400 signatures– the statutory maximum that can be submitted towards 200 required. Every single one was thrown in the trash, because he’d followed a state civil servant’s wrong advice in using the wrong form to collect them.

This in contrast to the experience of the Scott Walker campaign, which initially submitted a batch of fatally flawed petitions in 2014, only to return hours later to submit well over twice the statutory maximum turn-in of 4,000 signatures. Signatures which the G.A.B. accepted and counted, ” …because denying the incumbent Governor ballot access would be unthinkable,” Craig notes.

Also in 2014, the sole state legislative candidate of the Wisconsin Green Party was kicked off the ballot, in a race against incumbent Rob Kahl (D, Monona) with no Republican running. Kahl’s other opponent, 2016 U.S. Senate candidate Phil Anderson, joined the objection to kicking one of his opponents off the ballot, noting that it was particularly petty in a race with no major-party opposition.

“This system is broken, corrupt, and serves only one purpose: to keep average citizens far away from running for public office and enable special interests to rig elections,” says Milwaukee-based activist Craig, who oversaw the Wisconsin Libertarian Party’s successful petition drive to put five candidates, including himself, on the ballot for statewide office in 2014, an effort he estimates cost tens of thousands of dollars. “Candidates and parties have no respectable interest that our laws should recognize, in denying their opponents a place on the ballot.”

Looking to guidance from other states, like Minnesota and Michigan where almost no state legislator ever runs unopposed, the group has proposed a package of possible reforms. The most modest and simplest, would be to simply reduce the signature thresholds across the board. This is necessary to bring the state into compliance with the constitutional requirement that ballot access laws may only be as restrictive as necessary to prevent an “overcrowded ballot.” Other options including adopting a small filing fee option in lieu of a petition, such as Michigan uses, or to implement a “clear intent of the elector” standard on judging signature validity.

One fiscally prudent possibility, endorsed by experts and widely adopted in other states, would be to save taxpayer money by allowing smaller parties to nominate by convention instead of primary elections, which are ill-suited to parties with less than 10% of the electorate. This provision is already codified in Wisconsin law for presidential elections, under which qualified parties like the Greens and Libertarians simply inform the state who their candidates are.

“I think it’s reasonable that people don’t want the ballot cluttered up with dozens or hundreds of insincere joke candidates, and that demonstrating a modicum of seriousness or support is understandable. But the pendulum has swung dramatically too far in the other direction, leaving too many voters without a real election at all, and too many concerned citizens locked out of participating in the discussion,” says Craig.

The groups participating in the lobby day for free and fair elections, include Competitive Elections Wisconsin, the Libertarian Party of Dane County, and Gov. Gary Johnson’s Our America Initiative. Supporters and other potential partners from across the political spectrum are invited to participate at the State Capitol on Wednesday, February 17, meeting at 11:00 pm to start delivering their recommendations to the offices of all 99 state Representative, all 33 state Senators, and the Governor.  

RSVPs, as well as media inquiries and requests for interviews may be submitted to Andy Craig, at AndyCraig@OurAmericaInitiative.com.

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