Elections Commission unanimously allows Tim Michels access to the ballot
Tim Michels speaks at the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s 2022 state convention. (Screenshot | WisEye)
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted unanimously on Friday to dismiss a complaint seeking to deny Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels access to the ballot.
Michels had submitted nominating papers with 3,861 voter signatures. Democrats filed a challenge to Michels’ nominating papers alleging that they didn’t properly list his mailing address.
Michels, the last of the four candidates in the Republican primary to join the race, has quickly become a high-profile candidate. He has moved to the top of the polls and earlier this month the construction company owner was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
On many of the nominating papers submitted by the Michels campaign, the candidate’s mailing address was listed in the Village of Chenequa without a state or zip code. Jeff Mandell, the attorney for the complainant, argued that a mailing address is required by law to be listed on the papers and a proper mailing address must include a state or zip code, otherwise it wouldn’t be delivered.
“The United States Postal Service’s mailing standards for domestic mail manual … says that all mail ‘must bear a delivery address that contains at least the following elements,’ there’s then a list of six elements: item C is street and number, item D is city and state or state abbreviation,” Mandell told the commissioners. “The issue here is that respondent Michels, the vast majority of his nomination papers, do not include a municipality and a state. They include purely a municipality. Mail is not deliverable to ‘in the village of Chenequa.’”
Matthew Fernholz, the attorney for Michels’ campaign, argued that the statutory provision that a mailing address be included on the nominating provisions isn’t mandatory, so Michels should be granted ballot access.
“Even if the nomination papers contain an error as determined by the commission, Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent, and this commission’s own regulations and guidance, mandate Mr. Michels be permitted access to the ballot,” Fernholz said. “The statute … is directory, not mandatory.”
“There is no one who has been defrauded or misled by the form of Mr. Michels’ nomination,” he added.
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Mandell later countered that if a witness to someone filling out an absentee ballot left off this information, that ballot would be discounted.
“I want to point out that the argument that Mr. Michels is pressing upon this commission and I really urge the commission to reject, is that a candidate for office should be held to a lower standard than an absentee voter is held to with regard to not even to their own conduct, but to the witnesses’ conduct,” he said. “That really seems inappropriate.”
On Friday, commission members said that even if the papers technically didn’t include a full mailing address, it isn’t worth blocking someone from the ballot on those grounds. That sentiment was most strongly expressed by two of the Democrats on the body.
“I see the basis for the challenge,” Commissioner Ann Jacobs said. “I think it’s appropriate to make it, I don’t think it was frivolous, but I also don’t think it rose to the level where we can argue that it’s sufficient to keep someone off the ballot, is my inclination on this. It’s up to the voters.”
The commission met Friday to decide 11 challenges to ballot access. The dispute over Michels’ access took the longest, with attorneys for Michels and the complainant first arguing over procedural processes. Once the arguments over the merits of the dispute began, each side was given 20 minutes to make its case — far more than the five minutes that other campaigns were allowed.
Later, the commissioners asked several questions of the lawyers, with each given several minutes to further argue their case. At one point, Mandell and Republican-appointed commissioner Robert Spindell spent ten minutes going back and forth over the issue.
Michels’ acceptance to the ballot puts him in the campaign against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Rep. Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) and former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson. The election is scheduled for August 9.
In most of the other ballot access challenges, which included a number of longshot candidates for congressional seats and a challenger to Assembly Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the commission took the action that was recommended by the agency’s nonpartisan staff after their analysis of the complaints. Brandtjen’s opponent was allowed on the ballot.
The commission also unanimously rejected a complaint against former Democratic state Sen. Patty Schactner, who is running for a seat in the Assembly. The complaint against her was made on similar grounds as the complaint against Michels.
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