Yuri Rashkin says he will restore trust to the office of Rock County clerk if elected.
Incumbent clerk Lisa Tollefson stresses her deep knowledge and experience in running the office.
The two Democratic candidates for Rock County clerk faced off Tuesday on WCLO radio in what might be their only public forum before the Aug. 11 primary election.
The election likely will determine if Tollefson remains clerk or if Rashkin, a county board member, replaces her.
The winner of the Democratic primary will determine which candidate appears on the Nov. 3 ballot. No other candidate will be listed, although the possibility of a write-in candidate exists.
Rashkin claimed public confidence in the clerk’s office is waning and said it’s crucial that people trust the voting process.
At the close of the one-hour segment of “Your Talk Show,” host Tim Bremel asked each candidate to ask the other one a question.
Tollefson asked how Rashkin intended to replace her strong resume in election knowledge and ability to train poll workers and municipal clerks.
Tollefson said she is a certified state election trainer, which requires, among other things, five years of administering elections—something Rashkin has not done—and she frequently refreshes her knowledge with more training so she can train local officials.
“How do you plan to keep that strength in our elections when you can’t be a certified state trainer?” she said.
Rashkin said that as a college instructor, training people should not be a problem.
“It will take a little bit of time, and I’ll get those certifications,” Rashkin said, and he would turn to other trainers and sources of information for help.
Rashkin said if he wins, he would use the time before he assumes office in January to get up to speed.
Rashkin posed his question by noting the chairman of the county Republican Party has recommended that Republicans vote for Tollefson. He asked if she would remain a Democrat if she loses Aug. 11.
Tollefson had earlier welcomed support from all community members, and Rashkin said he also has supporters who are Republicans.
Tollefson said she runs as a Democrat because she is a centrist “with a slight left lean.” The office is a partisan one by law, she noted, but she believes it should be nonpartisan, and that’s why her campaign signs are purple—a mix of red and blue.
Tollefson said she doesn’t plan on losing. Rashkin pressed her for an answer to his question: “Are you going to remain a Democrat?”
“That is my plan,” she responded.
Rashkin said earlier that he believes anyone running in the Democratic primary should reject a Republican Party endorsement.
“Clearly, the current clerk feels differently, and the voters will decide which candidate is more genuine and represents their values,” Rashkin said.
The candidates were asked about their skills and how they would improve the office.
Rashkin said he would improve transparency and accountability and bring his background of service to the community.
It’s also important to reach out to all communities and make sure they understand the voting process, Rashkin said. He said the clerk’s web page should be in Spanish as well as English.
Rashkin also said information on video should be available for people who are illiterate, and the lack of these accommodations are examples of a lack of transparency and accountability.
Tollefson said she is continually taking classes on election management and other clerk duties and that she trains others in election management.
Tollefson described a fix she has installed to avoid one of her election mistakes, a misreporting of election results on election night in 2016. The problem arose when a second vote tabulator was brought in to clear a logjam at a Janesville polling place, resulting in a human-error miscount that night.
The machines are now programmed so the problem will not arise again, Tollefson said.
Asked about several mistakes made by Tollefson since she took office in 2015, Rashkin implied that Tollefson has not taken responsibility for them.
The most recent mistake came in the run-up to the April 7 election, when Rock County Board candidate Jacob Taylor was left off absentee ballots sent to about 200 voters in three Beloit wards.
Tollefson said she immediately sent out corrected absentee ballots and noted voters who had already sent in their ballots could send new ballots, which would be the ones that were counted.
Rashkin said Tollefson’s apology on Facebook included the fact that Taylor won the election, implying that no harm was done. Rashkin said that doesn’t excuse the mistake.
Tollefson said she has taken responsibility for all her mistakes and has corrected them as soon as possible.
She said the ballot at first included Taylor’s name but had to be redone because of a change in software, and it was inadvertently left off in the final version. She said she has taken steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
In other topics:
When asked about Tollefson’s husband’s Facebook post, urging conservative voters to vote for her and calling Rashkin a “little agenda-driven socialist,” Rashkin said the candidate should have removed her husband from her campaign staff but did not. Tollefson did not respond.
Rashkin misspoke, saying Wednesday is the last day to request an absentee ballot. That is not true, Tollefson noted. Wednesday is the last day for those who are not registered to register by mail or using myvote.wi.gov, and people can still register at their municipal clerk’s office through Aug. 7 and can register at the polls on election day. The last day to request an absentee ballot is the Thursday before the election.
Rashkin said he has a record of getting things done, including launching a community radio station, WADR, and getting a referendum endorsing the legalization of cannabis on the county ballot.