Local political candidates Reese Wood, Josh Pade and John Baker managed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot, but opponents challenged some of those signatures, and now they might have to sit this election out.
Wood, of Janesville, and Baker, of Mukwonago, admit they made mistakes, but they say they should get a break because it was hard to contact people who were isolating themselves because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pade, of Bristol, agrees with that difficulty, but he argues that his opponent's challenges are largely unproven. He says the state Elections Commission should not have disqualified some of his signatures for illegibility because they were legible.
In their responses to the challenges, both Wood and Baker said they warned the commission the pandemic would be a problem in the 47 days allowed for signature-gathering, but nothing was done.
Wood, a Libertarian, got hit by both major parties.
Wood is running in the 44th Assembly District, which covers most of Janesville. He had hoped to challenge the Democrat and Republican candidates Nov. 3.
Baker is a Republican hoping to challenge the incumbent 1st District congressman, Bryan Steil, in the Aug. 11 primary.
Pade is a Democrat hoping to win his party’s primary against Roger Polack in the 1st District. Polack challenged Pade’s signatures.
Pade submitted 21 more signatures than the minimum 1,000 required.
Pade’s attorney argues in his response that: “The law requires ‘substantial compliance’ with its requirements for nomination papers, not literal perfection. … The object of election laws is to secure the rights of duly qualified electors and not to defeat them.”
The state Elections Commission is scheduled to consider the challenges at its meeting Wednesday.
Baker and Wood both collected signatures from people who live outside the districts they want to represent, the challengers claim.
Baker, who submitted 1,007 signatures, said festivals, church services and gun shows were canceled, and he had to go door to door to gather signatures.
Baker said he went out every day, putting 3,000 miles on his car, and complained to the commission about the disadvantage to candidates such as himself, who face well-funded opponents.
He called for the Legislature to change the law and contacted his representatives and the governor’s office, he said.
But Republicans wanting to protect an incumbent were motivated not to help him, and as a Republican, he could expect opposition from Democrats, Baker charged.
Door-to-door work during the pandemic was “nearly impossible," Baker said.
“Many people work during the day," he said. "Many others were afraid to answer the door. People from the opposite party literally wanted to fight, swear and throw things at you.”
A well-funded campaign could afford to mail thousands of requests for signatures, something Baker said he could not do.
Wood, who submitted 209 signatures with 200 required, said the Libertarian Party petitioned the governor’s office, the Assembly and the state Elections Commission, warning them of the problem and asking for help during an unprecedented emergency.
He submitted a copy of a letter from the commission, acknowledging the difficulty of collecting signatures during the pandemic but stating that only the Legislature could change the rules and recommending candidates request them by mail.
Many candidates did go door to door, however. Wood and Pade both collected signatures at the Janesville Farmers Market.
“I am concerned about the integrity of our electoral process, and for that reason I believe the challenges to nomination signatures, however accurate, are unwarranted at this time,” Wood wrote in his response to the challenges.