MADISON – Wisconsin Democrats are alleging Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels did not properly file the paperwork needed to ensure his name is on the 2022 primary and general ballots.
If successful, the challenge would be a fatal blow to Michels who was just endorsed by former President Donald Trump and has already spent millions in a four-way primary for governor.
But Michels said Democrats were engaging in a frivolous effort based on a technicality that would not keep him off the ballot.
“Tim Michels is a threat to the insider network that runs Madison, but this petty and frivolous complaint will not distract our campaign in any way,” Michels campaign manager Patrick McNulty said in a statement.
A Madison voter, financially supported by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, filed a complaint Saturday with the Wisconsin Elections Commission alleging Michels did not include the municipality of his mailing address on the vast majority of his nomination papers, which were due by June 1.
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Wisconsin Elections Commission staff already validated 3,861 signatures of the 4,000 submitted by Michels, according to the campaign. Democrats are challenging all but 345 of those signatures because the nomination papers they appear on do not include Michels’ mailing address municipality.
State law requires candidates to include their mailing address on their nomination papers but Michels used just the municipality of his residence, which is different, on the vast majority of his paperwork. Michels lives in the Village of Chenequa but the US Postal Service lists Hartland as his mailing address.
It’s common for the post office to list people who live in small communities as living in larger ones nearby. The Democrats contend state law required Michels to use Hartland in addition to Chenequa on his paperwork.
“Tim Michels claims to care about election integrity, even while courting Donald Trump and the extreme fringes of the Republican base by spreading lies about the 2020 election results and promising to attack our system of election administration going forward,” Ben Wikler, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said in a call with reporters Sunday.
“Election integrity means at its core, following the law, and Tim Michels did not follow the laws.”
In a press release, the Michels campaign characterized the complaint as a small error given the addresses are not physically different, and argued it was being used to suppress the votes of his supporters.
“The nomination paper form on the Michels campaign website accurately listed Tim Michels’ physical address in the Municipality of the Village of Chenequa without mentioning the nuance that the mailing address is in the Hartland ZIP Code — that is the sole basis for this frivolous complaint, “the release said.
In the state Elections Commission’s guide for candidates’ nomination papers, it says “if the candidate has a mailing address that is different than their residential address, this needs to be added as well.”
Rebecca Kleefisch, who is running against Michels in the Republican primary for governor, also has a different municipality in her mailing address than what is known to be her residential address. Kleefisch listed both municipalities on her nomination papers.
Democratic candidate for the state Assembly Patty Schachtner, who lost a state Senate re-election race in 2020 and joined the Democrats’ call, said she could be kept off the ballot for making a similar error.
“The elections commission has set up clear guidance to help candidates meet those requirements. Mr. Michaels has failed to follow those rules. I know because my campaign has unfortunately made the same mistake, but WEC should follow the rules,” she told reporters.
The state Elections Commission will take up the complaint during a Friday meeting, when the panel also is supposed to elect a new chairman.
The meeting was delayed until Friday after Republican commissioner Dean Knudson abruptly announced his resignation citing his lack of support from fellow Republicans because he does not believe Trump won the 2020 election.
If commissioners do not agree to include him on the ballot, Michels could appeal the decision but he would need to act quickly. Absentee ballots for the Aug. 9 primary will start being mailed in mid-June.
Four years ago, the state Elections Commission decided to keep two judicial candidates on the ballot despite committing the same error because in both cases the US Post Office indicated mail would be delivered if either municipality is listed on an envelope, according to minutes of a Jan . 9, 2018 meeting. In both cases, signatures were not formally challenged.
In 2020, commissioners split 3-3 on whether to put two Green Party candidates on the ballot in a challenge over address discrepancies.
Madison attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who also oversees the current challenge to the Michels campaign, filed a complaint in 2020 saying the nomination papers circulated in support of the Green Party presidential ticket listed two different addresses for the party’s candidate for vice president. Some petitions said she lived on TV Road in Florence, South Carolina, and the others said she resided on Royal Street in Florence.
The Republican members of the commission backed putting one candidate on the ballot but the Democratic members opposed doing so because the second candidate had listed the two addresses on her campaign paperwork.
Ultimately, the matter ended up at the Wisconsin Supreme Court where conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joined liberal justices to deliver a ruling that kept the candidates off the 2020 ballot.
The majority found the candidates waited too long to bring their legal challenge because ballots had already been printed and in some cases mailed.
The decision was a win for Democrats, who feared then-presidential nominee Joe Biden could lose a small share of his votes to the liberal third party. Republicans had hoped the Green Party would shave just enough votes from Biden’s total to give President Donald Trump a victory in a state he narrowly won in 2016. Ultimately, Trump lost by about 21,000 votes.
In one dissent, Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler wrote that keeping a worthy candidate off the ballot is “the ultimate voter suppression.”
Since then, Republicans—including those running for governor—have cited the move as a reason to abolish the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
Contact Molly Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.