Three Democratic county clerks won't use GAB-issued ballot

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By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, September 20, 2014

MADISON—The concerns about the state's model ballots for the Nov. 4 elections are not limited to Republicans who have sued over the issue.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell on Friday said 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 Wisconsin Government 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.

“I want to make sure the voters in La Crosse County are able to vote that ballot as easily as possible,” she said. “We try to make the ballot as accessible and easy to read and that's why I put the shading in.”

The comments by the three Democratic clerks deflate the accountability board's claim that its new ballot is clearer and easier for voters to use.

Instead, McDonell said his county is using an older version of the ballot that sets off offices from candidates with gray shading and lines. Stottler said she is using the new design with no shading but added lines to it to help voters tell the difference between the offices and politicians.

“It was just a big white blob,” McDonell said of the state's model ballot.

At the same time, the actions by the Democratic clerks also let air out of a Republican claim that the new ballots are a liberal conspiracy against conservatives. McDonell, one of the most liberal clerks in the state, said he prefers the same ballots as Republicans.

Earlier this week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, sued over the ballots.

They want a judge to order changes to the format of the ballot, which would 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.

The lawsuit was filed after absentee ballots have already been sent to some voters. It also comes as clerks are scurrying to put in place the state's voter ID law, which had been stalled for 21/2 years but was reinstated last week by a panel of three federal judges in Chicago.

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.

Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno, a Republican, added shading to her ballot because she believed the state version was too difficult to read. She said the accountability board told her it wouldn't approve her version of the ballot but she decided to use it anyway.

“I feel satisfied the voters in Brown County will have a ballot they can follow and vote,” she said.

McDonell said he believed under state law he was free to reject the accountability board ballot because it was never approved by the agency's appointed board, only prepared by its staff.

McDonell said he thought the accountability board had made a mistake but there was no intent to help any political party. His main concern was that some voters would end up skipping over offices because they weren't well marked, he said.

It's too late in the process to try to force clerks who did use the accountability board ballots to reprint them over a relatively minor matter, McDonell said.

So far, neither the Republicans suing over the ballots nor the accountability board has offered any objective study they have done, such as a survey of voters, to show that one ballot is easier or harder to understand than the other.

Accountability board spokesman Reid Magney said he would not comment because of the ongoing litigation.

Kevin Kennedy, director of the accountability board, said earlier this week the ballots were redesigned in compliance with state law and were intended to be easier for voters to use.

The new 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.

Democrats are listed first on this year's ballot, and the lawsuit contends some voters may wrongly believe only one candidate—a Democrat—is running for some offices.

Democrats are listed first on the ballots this year because they won the most presidential votes in Wisconsin in 2012. Two years ago, Republicans appeared first on the ballots because they had won the most votes in the 2010 race for governor.

The Republicans were able to sue in conservative Waukesha County because of a law they approved in 2011 that allows suits against the state to be filed in any county. Before then, suits against the state typically had to be brought in liberal Dane County, the seat of state government.

Last updated: 12:16 pm Saturday, September 20, 2014

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