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WEC weighs challenges to nomination papers

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WEC weighs challenges to nomination papers

Jun 10, 2024 | 6:07 pm ET
By Henry Redman
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WEC weighs challenges to nomination papers
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Sign for the Wisconsin Elections Comission. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

The Wisconsin Elections Commission considered challenges to candidate nomination papers on Monday, barring a congressional and a legislative candidate from getting on the ballot this fall. The commission approved ballot access for all the other challenges it heard. 

In the meeting, the commission heard challenges to a number of candidates for congress and state Legislature. In all the challenges heard by the commission, the six members agreed with the preliminary decision made by WEC staff. 

Democrat Andrew Beck, who was attempting to get on the primary ballot to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald in the 5th Congressional District, was rejected because a number of signatures weren’t valid, taking him below the 1,000 signatures required to get on the ballot. 

The commission also voted not to give ballot access to David Heffel, who was trying to run in the 70th Assembly District. Heffel wasn’t granted access because his paperwork listed two separate addresses for himself and staff could not verify that one of them existed. 

In the race for the 8th Congressional District to fill the vacant seat left by former Rep. Mike Gallagher, a former Green Bay city council member challenged nomination papers filed by Tony Wied. 

Wied, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is running against state Sen. Andre Jacque and former Sen. Roger Roth in the three-way Republican primary for the seat. Candidates for the 8th had to collect two sets of signatures, one for the special election to finish the remainder of Gallagher’s term and another for the regular primary election. 

The council member, Tony Theisen, alleged that he witnessed two circulators for the Wied campaign telling voters who signed the papers that the forms were for “housing for the homeless,” and challenged the validity of Wied’s nomination papers for both elections. 

Kurt Goehre, an attorney for the Wied campaign, said at the meeting Monday that the complaints against the signatures failed “to establish that voters were misled.” The commissioners agreed with the recommendation of agency staff, who wrote in a memo that the Wied campaign’s forms were properly labeled to show what voters were signing. 

“As to the allegations of fraud, staff do not believe Mr. Theisen’s request to invalidate every nomination paper collected by the applicable circulator should be granted, or the challenge sustained,” the staff memo states. “Giving due weight to each sworn statement, with a presumption of validity for nomination papers and a challenge burden falling on the challenger, there is no cause to sustain a challenge to all pages circulated by the specific circulator.”

The person who collected the signatures “directly denied the allegation,” the memo states. “What is more, candidate Wied’s nomination paper headings were all legally compliant and correctly completed. The proper headings on those nomination paper[s] show that the electors signed with ‘full knowledge of its content,’ and the allegations raised in the challenge cannot overcome the presumption of validity.”

In the Democratic primary for the 4th Senate District, which is vacant because of former Sen. Lena Taylor’s appointment to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Assembly Reps. LaKeshia Myers and Dora Drake are running. Myers filed a challenge to all 692 signatures that Drake turned in, alleging that she had used a form labeled as a “nomination paper for nonpartisan office” when she is running as a Democrat for a partisan office. 

Myers told the commission on Monday that using an improper form could have potentially misled voters who might not have signed if they knew it was for a Democratic primary. 

The Drake campaign pointed out that all the papers still pointed out she was running as a Democrat. The staff memo states that all 77 pages filed by the campaign state “Democratic Party” in the header. 

The commission voted to allow Drake access to the ballot, finding that even though she didn’t use the right form, she was still substantially compliant with the requirements under state law. 

New chair 

At the meeting, the commission also elected a new chair. The six-member commission is made up of three members appointed by Democrats and three members appointed by Republicans. The commission chair serves a two year term, alternating which party gets to control the commission gavel. 

Don Millis, a Republican, had been chair for the previous two years. On Monday, the body voted unanimously to elect Democrat Ann Jacobs as chair. 

Jacobs previously served as chair from 2020 to 2022, leading the commission’s meetings as it worked through the issues leading up to and following the 2020 presidential election. 

In a post on X, Jacobs said she recognizes the state’s role in this year’s presidential election and that she’s confident in the work of the state’s local election clerks and WEC staff. 

“I am honored to have been unanimously elected Chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” she wrote. “I recognize WI’s outsize role in this year’s presidential election, & am confident in the work of our many clerks & Elections [Commission] staff in making this our strongest election ever.” 

Vos recall petition

Monday’s meeting was the first time the commission met since a group of right-wing activists filed paperwork late last month to initiate a recall election against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, but the body took no action on the recall campaign’s filing. 

The recall activists are opposed to Vos because of his alleged failure to go along with their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Their previous recall attempt failed because they didn’t gather enough valid signatures. That effort was troubled by a question of which district to gather signatures from:  the one that Vos was elected to in 2022 or the new one he’ll run in this year under recently adopted legislative maps. 

Vos has filed a challenge against the recall petition, saying there are thousands of problematic signatures among the more than 9,000 filed by the activists. Vos said he found 2,000 collected from outside his current legislative district, 400 people who signed more than once and 350 collected after the statutory deadline. 

The commission stated in a news release that staff were focused on reviewing the nomination papers for all the other candidates filing paperwork to get on the ballot in this fall’s elections. The commission’s deadline to respond to the recall petition and Vos’ challenge is June 28. Its next meeting is set for June 27.