Wisconsin Public Radio

Bill Would Make It Harder For Candidates To Be Kicked Off Ballots

Proposal, which touches on a 2022 Milwaukee school board race, would add clarity to signature process.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Aug 31st, 2023 04:11 pm
Vote here sign outside a Milwaukee polling place. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Vote here sign outside a Milwaukee polling place. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Bipartisan backers say pending legislation would prevent candidates from being kicked off the ballot arbitrarily.

To get on the ballot, Wisconsin residents need to submit a certain number of signatures from eligible voters who live in that district.

For statewide office, for instance, Wisconsin law says candidates must submit at least 2,000 valid signatures but may submit up to 4,000. But sponsors of Assembly Bill 330 and its counterpart in the state Senate say clarity in state law is needed. They cite cases like that of former Milwaukee School Board candidate Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves, who ended up losing that District 1 race in April 2023.

According to state law, candidates need at least 400 valid signatures to be in that race, but they may submit up to 800.

Hendricks Reaves turned in 941 signatures but was disqualified from running after the Milwaukee Election Commission did not find enough valid signatures within the first 800 it reviewed.

“The reason we need to clarify this is because, reading by plain letter of the law, they were following the rules,” state Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, said of the Milwaukee Election Commission’s initial actions.

Ortiz-Velez is an author of the Assembly bill, which got a committee hearing Wednesday.

“Part of our democracy is making sure that people are able to run for office, and that we make things clear so that they can do that,” she said.

Hendricks Reaves got back on the ballot after she appealed that rejection, and she got elections officials to review the remaining 141 signatures she submitted. Hendricks Reaves and her backers point to a 2020 memo from the Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator explaining when additional signatures can be counted.

Additionally, a video offering guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission states, “A candidate may turn in more than 800 signatures for (certain school board positions), but those will be placed in a supplemental stack and not counted during review unless the minimum number of good signatures falls below 400.”

The legislation introduced earlier this year specifies that, if elections officials don’t find enough valid signatures within the maximum number of signatures submitted, those officials have to keep checking any additional signatures that were submitted for enough valid ones.

“If somebody does the hard work of going out and knocking on doors and getting signatures, by gosh, you better count every one of them, especially if it’s in the wintertime,” state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said during testimony Wednesday before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections.

State Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, called the proposal “commonsense.”

“We’re going to clarify that here in this committee, and in the Legislature I am sure, and clarify that indeed, if you got enough valid signatures, even if you turn in a bunch of ones that maybe weren’t valid for whatever reason, you’re still on the ballot,” he said.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Backers say bills will prevent Wisconsin candidates from being kicked off the ballot arbitrarily was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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