Janesville council to consider elections adjustments

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Elliot Hughes
Friday, June 24, 2016

JANESVILLE--The Janesville City Council would no longer have any say in whether a primary election would be held for city council elections under a new proposal to be considered Monday.

Currently, the council decides if a primary election should be held, as long there are more than twice as many candidates as seats available.

But a proposal sponsored by council President Sam Liebert would remove the governing body from making that decision. Instead, a primary would automatically be held if the number of candidates is twice the number of seats available plus two.

For example, if three seats were up for election and eight or more candidates get on the ballot, the result would be a primary.

The proposal comes months after the council decided to pass on holding a primary election that would have narrowed a field of candidates from seven to six for three seats. At that time, at least once council member, Carol Tidwell, said it was “awkward” for the council to decide whether to hold a primary election for itself, given that multiple council members were seeking re-election.

The council has had the option to hold primaries in all six elections since 2003, according to city documents. It decided against primaries five times.

If the proposed formula were in effect then, a primary would have been held once, in 2008, when the council decided to hold one anyway. Eleven candidates fought for three seats that year.

Also Monday, the council will consider creating a new way for poll workers to count absentee votes in Janesville.

Clerk-Treasurer David Godek is proposing to have all absentee ballots in the city be counted in one place, rather than the current practice of each polling location counting the absentee ballots received from its voting ward.

At least two poll workers have to be devoted to counting those ballots at each polling location, according to state law. In a memo to the council, Godek wrote that an increasing number of voters are casting absentee ballots, making things inefficient for the city's election process.

According to city documents, an average of 1,531 absentee ballots were cast per election between 2006 and 2010. Between 2011 and 2015, that average count rose to 2,036. More than 8,600 absentee ballots were cast in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections in Janesville.

Wisconsin does not require voters to provide a reason for casting an absentee ballot.

Godek is proposing the formation of a “board of absentee ballot canvassers” to count all of the city's absentee ballots. It would include three people--at least two appointed by the city clerk plus the clerk or another appointee. Under state law, Godek can appoint additional canvassers if he chooses.

The change would allow workers at the city's polling locations to concentrate on assisting voters, Godek wrote in his memo.

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