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Judge dismisses lawsuit over Nov. 4 ballot design

WAUKESHA -- A Waukesha County judge threw out a lawsuit filed by two Republican campaign committees.  


The ballot battle wrapped up relatively quickly in court Wednesday morning. Circuit Court Judge James Kieffer said the lawsuit didn't follow the proper procedure and shouldn't have been in Circuit Court yet. 


The campaign committees of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald filed the lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board last week, and said the newly-designed ballot is confusing and unfairly formatted to benefit Democrats.


Kieffer addressed the plaintiff's failure to follow procedure at the start of the hearing. Only an elector or voter can file this type of lawsuit, not committees or campaigns.  


The proper procedure for this type of complaint is to submit it with the Government Accountability Board, first.  The GAB can either act on the complaint or do nothing. After that, an elector can take the issue to Circuit Court.


The judge admitted he was surprised to learn that clerks across Wisconsin's 72 counties can alter the ballots on their own.  


It's unclear whether the committees will appeal the decision. 


\"What the campaigns are going to do going forward is obviously something I'll have to talk with them about,\" Attorney Joseph Olson, for the Vos and Fitzgerald campaigns, said. \"Decisions will need to be made. But I have no idea what's going to happen at this point.\"


Meanwhile, the GAB is happy with the outcome of today's hearing. 


\"The idea that there is significant potential for voter confusion is not supported,\" Government Accountability Board Executive Director Kevin Kennedy said. \"There's a lot of judgment that comes in, subjective decision making that comes in to looking at these things.\"


The Republican Party of Wisconsin released a statement saying: \"While we are disappointed with the court’s interpretation of the case’s 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. We hope that additional clerks will display a willingness to push back against the GAB and implement a ballot that more closely resembles the widely-accepted ballot design Wisconsin voters are familiar with using.\"


Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell says he decided long before last week's lawsuit not to use the ballot. \"There's no mandate. There's suggestions.\" McDonell explained.

The state's two largest counties, Milwaukee and Dane, have decided to use ballots that do not look like the G.A.B. sample ballot.

McDonell says according to state statute, the sample ballot is simply a guideline. But says he talked to clerks that did not know they could make changes. \"One of the benefits of this is clerks understanding their rights. G.A.B understanding the limits of their power.\" McDonell said.

Wednesday Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke also commented on the ballot issue. Walker said, \"You had in Dane County and several other counties where you have Democrat clerks they refused to use it [G.A.B. sample ballot], or they altered the ballot to make it more readable. I think that's the concern people brought up. But from my standpoint you know I'll leave it up to the clerks.\"

Burke said, \"I think the ballot is fair as is. That is up to the clerks to decide. But I don't have any issues with it.\"



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