Thanks, But No: Several WI Counties Decline to Use State-Designed Ballots


[Image courtesy of ultrazapping]

As if things in Wisconsin weren’t chaotic enough with the simultaneous races to implement and block the state’s voter ID law, a new controversy has emerged regarding the ballot design for this fall’s general election.

Republicans have filed suit over the design, claiming that the GAB-produced template (which eliminates some shading and divider lines) unfairly advantages Democrats, who are listed first because their party received more votes in the 2012 Presidential election. And now, clerks in several large Democratic counties are declining to use the design as well. JSOnline has more:

Clerks around Wisconsin from both parties have modified the state’s model ballots for the Nov. 4 elections, raising questions about both the state officials who designed the ballots and about a GOP lawsuit aimed at forcing a costly reprinting of ballots.

Clerks from both parties, including at least three Democrats, have found the model ballots confusing, showing that the concerns over them aren’t limited to the Republicans who have sued over the issue.

Checks by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday found that most of the state’s urban areas will be using ballots that are more clearly marked for voters than the Government Accountability Board’s model ballot. The biggest exception is in Wausau.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said Friday he had refused to use the ballot that state elections officials had recommended for this fall out of concerns that it was too confusing.

Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said she had similar concerns that the ballot put forward by the accountability board didn’t clearly distinguish for voters between the candidates on the ballot and the offices they were seeking. And La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said she added shading to the ballots to make them clearer.

“We try to make the ballot as accessible and easy to read, and that’s why I put the shading in,” she said.

Republicans are pleased by the developments but are proceeding with their suit nonetheless:

In the lawsuit, the campaigns of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) are asking the court to order changes to the format of the ballot, which could require some clerks to reprint their ballots. The cost of doing that isn’t clear, but in 2012 election officials spent $1.43 million on printing and delivering ballots.

Vos said he was pleased to hear that many of the counties had not gone along with the state’s version of the ballot. “I think that’s a win for voters,” he said.

But he added that he had sued to ensure that no clerk is prevented from creating a clear ballot.

A hearing over the design of the ballots is slated for 8 a.m. Wednesday before Waukesha County Circuit Judge James Kieffer.

The accountability board designs ballots in its role as the chief elections agency for the state. Local clerks insert the names of candidates in their area on the ballots and are responsible for printing them.

What’s interesting is that the changes involved are relatively small, though important in improving the clarity and usability of the ballots:

Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki, a Democrat, said the county is also using a ballot that clearly distinguishes between candidates and the office. In Milwaukee County’s case, that’s done by putting the office on the left hand side of the column and the candidates on the right — something not done on the GAB’s model ballot.

Reprinting the county’s ballots now would cost at least $150,000, and the replacement ballots couldn’t be used for most early voting, Czarnezki said. It could cost even more if the county’s ballot scanners have to be reprogrammed, he said.

Lines were added to the ballot in Waukesha County to make the ballots more readable, said Clerk Kathleen Novack, a Republican…

The new model ballots list the office candidates are seeking, followed by the names of the candidates and an arrow or oval voters fill in to make their selection. There is no line between the title of each office and the first candidate for that office. There is a line between each candidate, however.

Just like ballot controversies in Kansas (more on that this week), these disputes are occurring right at the time when ballots are supposed to be going out to military and overseas voters around the world. If that process doesn’t move forward as required, you’ll be able to add that to the list of things that aren’t going smoothly in the run-up to the election in Wisconsin this fall.

Hold on to your cheesehead hats and stay tuned …

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