The Wisconsin Election Commission has issued their written decision whether Lou Kowieski, an Oconomowoc alderman attempting to run for mayor in the Spring election, turned in enough nomination signatures to be on the ballot.
Kowieski needed 200 valid nomination signatures to have his name placed on the ballot. Kowieski turned in 214 signatures. However, another candidate, Tara Fox, challenged the signatures (with the help of the Democratic Party of Waukesha County).
Oconomowoc Clerk Diane Coenen initially determined that Kowieski had 200 valid signatures. When Fox appealed to the Wisconsin Election Commission, the commission and Coenen recalculated the number of valid signatures and determined Kowieski fell short with 197.
(The attorney hired by the Democrats, Mike Maistelman, has done legal work for RightWisconsin and editor James Wigderson.)
Kowieski appealed the decision to the Election Commission. On Tuesday, the Commission denied Kowieski’s appeal saying that the number of signatures is still short, regardless of what the clerk originally indicated.
The written decision by the Election Commission explains what happened with the initial determination.
On January 15, 2020, Clerk Coenen issued a sufficiency determination on the complaint, which found that some signatures were invalid and were struck (challenge sustained), and other signatures were valid and were accepted (challenge rejected). Ultimately, Clerk Coenen issued a sufficiency determination finding 200 valid signatures, the minimum number allowed to obtain ballot access for that office. On January 17, 2020, Ms. Fox filed a verified complaint with the Commission, appealing the sufficiency determination issued by Clerk Coenen.
On January 22, 2020, Commission staff commenced its initial review of the complaint to ensure that on its face, the complaint was timely, sufficient as to form and stated probable cause pursuant to Wis. Admin. Code § EL 20.04(1). Based on this initial review, Commission staff was unable to determine which 200 signatures Clerk Coenen had determined were valid. Commission staff contacted Clerk Coenen for clarification as to which signatures were struck after the original challenge filed by Ms. Fox, and which signatures were accepted. Upon further review, Clerk Coenen determined that Mr. Kowieski did not have a sufficient number of signatures to be placed on the ballot – less than the required minimum of 200.
On that same day, January 22, 2020, Clerk Coenen issued an “Amended Determination on Complaint to Sufficiency of Nomination Papers” that stated: “I used my best judgement when I made my determination of January 15, 2020, however after consulting with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, I am persuaded that the sufficiency of nomination papers, that were filed by Louis Kowieski, candidate for the office of Mayor of the City of Oconomowoc, did not meet the requisite number of valid nominations to qualify to be on the ballot.”
The Commission’s response to Kowieski’s appeal adds:
The Commission believes that Clerk Coenen was within her authority to correct an error in her original sufficiency determination. The error significantly impacted several parties, and correcting the error placed the proper party before the Commission on appeal. The error was corrected immediately upon discovery and shared with the parties involved as soon as possible to allow Mr. Kowieski time to prepare and file an appeal with the Commission. The amended sufficiency was issued prior to Ms. Fox’s complaint being forwarded to Clerk Coenen for a response. The error was corrected, and the amended sufficiency was issued prior to ballots being printed for the Spring Primary in the City to avoid potential voter confusion or the reprinting of ballots for that election. Had the error not been discovered and corrected by Clerk Coenen, Mr. Kowieski’s name would have improperly appeared on the ballot because he had not met the minimum requirements for ballot access. See Wis. Stat. § 8.30(1)(a) and (b) (candidates ineligible for ballot placement).
Additionally, it could be argued that ignoring the discovered error and not attempting to fix it within a reasonable timeframe could be a more egregious abuse of discretion by the clerk than what is alleged in Mr. Kowieski’s complaint.
Kowieski can appeal the decision by the Election Commission in Circuit Court. Candidates for public office typically gather well more than the minimum number needed in case nomination signatures are challenged. Kowieski is currently running a write-in campaign for mayor.