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Our Views: Ouster of candidates is unfortunate but sends vital message

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Friday, January 16, 2015

News that Janesville School Board incumbent David DiStefano and challenger Diane Eyers could be left off the April 7 ballot is disheartening.

It’s great when voters have choices. Three seats are open, and only four candidates filed nomination papers. Those choices might have been halved this week when the district ruled that papers for DiStefano and Eyers are deficient. Unless they win appeals with the state’s Government Accountability Board, they won’t be on the ballot. That means a write-in candidate—if someone registers such a candidacy—will fill the third seat.

This disturbing situation arose after an AFSCME Council 40 representative challenged the paperwork. That the union, which represents not teachers but support staff, sought to oust both candidates suggests it didn’t share their views on issues.

School district clerk Karl Dommershausen and assistant board clerk Debra Blazer reviewed the papers. They disqualified Eyers because she included printed names with only three signers. DiStefano didn’t include the election date on one page.

Readers could wonder whether these candidates might likewise lack attention to details as board members. After all, this isn’t the first election for either. But at least in the case of Eyers, making her third bid for the board, a change last year in election laws tripped her up.

In an email forwarded from school Superintendent Karen Schulte, Blazer explained that she gives interested candidates paper packets of GAB forms and checklists. She doesn’t provide verbal instructions but has answered limited specific questions and urges candidates to get more than the 100 minimum signatures in case some are ruled invalid.

Eyers says she used nomination papers left over from her bid last spring. When she pulled other forms from the GAB website, she told us by email, nothing told her about new papers.

“I was trying to save a tree,” she wrote. “When I turned in my papers, nothing was said about the forms being wrong, and I was approved and ballot placement was already chosen.”

Absent formal challenges, might insufficient paperwork have been accepted in past elections? Schulte told us she would have no way of knowing but added, “The assistant board clerks I have worked with are very precise and detail oriented.”

DiStefano has been oddly silent. As of Friday, he hadn’t responded to Gazette calls seeking comment. He and Eyers have until next Friday to appeal. Eyers says she likely will.

“It’s an unfortunate incident for two good people trying to do good things for their community—and yet the union has a clear interest in keeping them off the ballot,” Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler told us by email. “I hate to call it a game of ‘gotcha,’ but for lack of better words … ”

These missteps should send a message to future candidates to be meticulous with nomination papers. As board member Kevin Murray suggested on WCLO’s “Your Talk Show,” the rules might seem picky, but proper paperwork ensures the integrity of elections. Murray, now serving his fourth term, acknowledged that following the detailed rules is stressful.

Stottler thinks DiStefano and Eyers tried to follow the law’s “spirit.”

“I believe folks knew what they were signing, and that is the ultimate purpose of circulating—assuring that you have the public support for running for the position,” she wrote. “Neither one of them did anything to mislead or intentionally disregard the law. That being said, in elections, however, it seems the ‘letter’ of the law is the standard.”

Residents should watch with interest to see how the GAB rules in any appeal.

 



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