Judge dismisses GOP ‘flawed’ ballot lawsuit


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Citing a procedural error, a Waukesha County judge dismissed a GOP-filed lawsuit that asked for a forced fix of Wisconsin’s newly designed general election ballot, a ballot the Republican Party of Wisconsin says is “deeply flawed and confusing.”

Waukesha County Circuit Judge James Kieffer tossed out the lawsuit Wednesday, saying the complaint should have been filed with the Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees state campaign finance and election law — and, from time to time, commissions redesigns of ballots. Kieffer said state law is clear on where such complaints must originate.

But the GOP’s beef is with the GAB, which increasingly has come under fire by Republicans who accuse the agency and its agents of behaving in a partisan fashion.

In a 22-page complaint, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, claim the new ballot design will create confusion at the polls.

DISMISSED: A judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit by Republican leaders charging that a newly designed ballot for November’s election is confusing and gives Democrats an unfair advantage.

In addition to no clear demarcation between each office and the first candidate, the GAB’s standard ballot design doesn’t clearly separate each office from the previous office’s candidates, which will dilute voter intent by increasing the number of under-votes, the GOP asserts in a statement.

With less than six weeks to go before the election, including the hotly contested gubernatorial election, the Republicans had called on the GAB to “reverse course and produce a sample ballot that conforms to the standards adopted for numerous prior elections,” including last month’s partisan primary election.

“As a result of either blatant partisanship or sheer incompetence, the GAB has created a standard ballot with inherent flaws that must be corrected immediately,” Joe Fadness, RPW executive director, said last week. “It is a sad day in Wisconsin when we must go to court to fix a problem so obvious and troubling.”

Following the judge’s decision, it was not clear whether Republican leadership would appeal. The judge also ruled that the campaigns of the legislative leaders did not have standing to file the lawsuit, that only voters have the ability to file such complaints.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin said in a statement it is disappointed with the court’s “interpretation of the cases nuances, the fact remains that the ballot design pushed by the Government Accountability Board staff — without approval from the full board — is inherently flawed and confusing.”

RPW said it hopes more county clerks will implement a ballot that “more closely resembles the widely-accepted ballot design Wisconsin voters are familiar with.”

Some counties have opted to use different ballots, citing concerns about possible voter confusion.

Kevin Kennedy, GAB’s director and general counsel, told the Associated Press that he was pleased with the quick dismissal of the case. He told the AP that counties are required to “substantially follow” the model ballot, but local officials may design ballots as they wish, subject to GAB review.

Most concerning, Republican leaders say, is that GAB staff spent $19,000 of taxpayer money to employ registered Democrat and partisan progressive Dana Chisnell to “study” Wisconsin’s ballot layout without notifying the election agency’s board or the Legislature.

“This blatant use of taxpayer funds epitomizes the public’s distrust of the GAB and their inept ability to manage the elections process as a non-partisan entity,” the Republican Party of Wisconsin said in its release last week.

The GAB has been busy. The lawsuit and its dismissal follow on the heels of federal appeals court ruling ordering the GAB implement the state’s voter ID law for the general election.