The Tim Michels nomination papers challenge is unlikely to derail his campaign.
The Democrats’ silly attack against Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels is almost certainly going nowhere. Here’s why.
The Democrats want the Wisconsin Election Commission to boot Michels off the ballot because he listed the physical location of his Waukesha County residence as his mailing address instead of the address used by the post office (Village of Chenequa versus Hartland). That’s about as small of a technicality as it gets. It’s extremely petty for a Democratic Party that claims to be for “ballot access” to try to prevent voters from choosing who they want in a Republican primary (a “voter” actually is making the challenge, but it’s funded by the state Democratic Party.)
Of course, campaigns would do well to not open the door to a group as off the rails as the Wisconsin Election Commission, even in the smallest of ways. Give them a centimeter, and the Democrats on the Commission will plow through it. Thus, it’s surprising that Michels did not turn in perfect papers.
But it’s highly unlikely to keep him off the ballot – and it shouldn’t.
That’s because the Wisconsin Election Commission’s staff has already validated enough signatures for Michels to keep him on the ballot.
That means the run-amok Democrats on the Commission won’t have the power to invalidate them on their own. Precedent is also on his side because two judicial candidates were allowed on the ballot in 2018 with the same issue. That’s because it was acknowledged that the post office would deliver mail addressed with either location because it’s the same house and is actually located in the township.
Specifically, according to Michels’ campaign, WEC staff has validated 3,861 signatures of the 4,000 signatures the campaign turned in on his nomination papers. He needs 2,000. That means that, when the full Commission meets soon to hear the Democrats’ complaint, a deadlocked vote would just have the practical effect of upholding the staff’s validation, putting him on the ballot.
This matters because the commission has three Democrats and three Republicans. The Democrats include extremely liberal partisan Joe Biden donors, Milwaukee attorneys Ann Jacobs and Mark Thomsen, and a third Democrat who often goes along with them. Republican Dean Knudson is resigning but is on the board until a replacement is chosen. That means the commission could deadlock.
This is the opposite of what happened when a deadlocked commission succeeded in keeping the Green Party off the ballot in the 2020 presidential election. In that case, the commission heard a challenge to the Green vice presidential candidate’s nomination signatures, but it was based on the frivolous fact that she had listed two different addresses simply because she moved.
However, in that case, the WEC staff had already INvalidated the signatures – a key difference between that scenario and what is happening to Michels, whose signatures were validated. That meant that the 3-3 deadlock on the Wisconsin Election Commission itself served to keep the Greens off the ballot because the staff’s earlier invalidation stood. This decision might have helped cost President Donald Trump Wisconsin, as we have previously written. The Democrats on the Commission succeeded in ensuring that a Jill Stein scenario would not be repeated.
The Greens made some mistakes. According to the meeting minutes, the Green candidate did not submit any correcting affidavits. No written response to the challenge was received from the respondents in that instance. The Green Party campaign did contact commission staff to say that the candidate had moved. In Commission staff’s opinion, though, the decision “not to file a written response and explain the address discrepancy raised in the complaint proves fatal to the signatures contained on pages that are inconsistent with the address contained on the sworn Declaration of Candidacy of the Candidate.” The staff recommended that the Commission deny the Greens ballot access.
The state Supreme Court, with Brian Hagedorn joining the liberals, then outrageously ruled that it was too close to the election to rule on whether the WEC acted legally by booting the Greens off the ballot, so the election proceeded without them (and without Kanye West, in a different issue).
The same Madison attorney behind the nefarious Green Party complaint is helping with this one.
Let us be clear. We believe that, if the Jacobs-Thomsen-led Democratic triumvirate spots any opportunity to boot Michels or any of the other Republicans off the ballot, they will take it. And we will come to the defense of any of the candidates if they do so frivolously, whether they are Greens or Republicans.
They’ve certainly been accused of repeatedly demonstrating that they are willing to operate outside of the law (see Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and special voting deputies as a case in point). Weirdly, the Democrats even trotted out Democratic candidate for the state Assembly Patty Schachtner, who argued she should be tossed off the ballot too for doing the same thing.
It’s just that the Democrats can’t succeed here without a Republican vote, because of the difference in the underlying staff decision. And it’s highly unlikely Republicans would go against Michels on this one.
State law reads that a “candidate shall include his or her mailing address.” How that’s defined seems vague. Precedent is in Michels’ favor as well.
When candidates with this same problem were allowed to remain on the ballot in 2018, there was not a challenge to those signatures as there is in this case. However, the ruling in their favor centered around the fact that the post office would deliver mail to either address, since the township is where the homes are actually physically located (many people in Wisconsin have this issue!)
“The nomination papers of William F. Kussel, Jr, candidate for Menominee and Shawano County Circuit Court Judge, lists a voting residence at a street address in the Town of Wescott. His mailing address is the same as his voting address except for the municipality, which is Shawano,” reads the Commission Materials 1-9-18 for a previous state Elections Commission meeting.
“The nomination papers of Mark T. Fuhr, candidate for Price County Circuit Court Judge, lists a voting address at a street address in the Town of Worcester. His mailing address is the same as his voting address except for the municipality, which is Phillips.”
Crucially, the minutes note in those cases, “In both cases, the United States Post Office website zip code finder indicates mail will be delivered if either municipality is listed on an envelope.”
This entire flap is another reminder that serious flaws are baked into the Wisconsin Election Commission’s structure. We remember its history. We remember the problems with the Government Accountability Board that preceded it. Having people put their partisanship on the table and giving each side three votes makes some sense – except when you get squishy Republican members or the ability to subvert the law via a deadlock or directives to nursing homes. Then the problem becomes apparent.
It doesn’t seem like it will rear its ugly head in this case, however.