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Nygren lawsuit could upend election preparations

By DINESH RAMDE
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — County clerks in northeastern Wisconsin have begun preparing ballots for a recall election in three weeks, fully aware that an impending court ruling involving the state senate race could turn all their plans upside-down.

Clerks in Brown, Marinette, Oconto and Shawano counties are getting ready for a general election July 19 between Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen and Republican challenger David VanderLeest. Both are from Green Bay.

Meanwhile, state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, has sued to get his name on the ballot as well. He was ruled ineligible this week after state election officials said he submitted only 398 valid voter signatures with his nomination papers, two shy of the minimum required.

Nygren’s lawsuit accused the state Government Accountability Board of issuing its ruling without giving him a fair chance to defend his eligibility.

A Dane County judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Friday at 9 a.m. It’s not immediately known when a ruling can be expected.

A decision in Nygren’s favor would create a flurry of extra work for the city clerks who prepare and administer the ballots. If Nygren were permitted to run, the July 19 election would become a Republican primary in which Nygren and VanderLeest would square off. The winner would then face Hansen in a general election Aug. 16.

That means county clerks, who are currently preparing ballots that list only Hansen and VanderLeest in a general election, would have to scrap those plans and, within less than three weeks, scramble to print new ballots listing VanderLeest and Nygren in a party primary first.

The GAB emailed the clerks in the four counties Wednesday instructing them to proceed as though Nygren will not be a candidate.

Kim Pytleski, the Oconto County Clerk, said her office was doing just that. She said the county planned to print 1,500 to 2,000 paper ballots, so her office wouldn’t need too much advance notice about a change of plans.
“We’re just waiting on the state,” she said. “Either way we’ll just make it work.”

The counties had until Tuesday to make absentee ballots available. Clerks in Brown and Oconto counties said they complied by preparing absentee ballots without Nygren’s name, but were ready to retool if necessary.

Messages left with clerks in Marinette and Shawano counties were not immediately returned.

In his lawsuit, Nygren said he wasn’t given enough time to explain why questionable signatures that ended up getting tossed should have ruled valid. One was from a Green Bay man who lives in the proper Senate district but had his signature tossed because he listed a work address outside the district, Nygren’s lawyer said.

Nygren only needs a judge to reinstate two signatures to get placed on the ballot.

Even so, state Democrats are proceeding as though Hansen’s only opponent will be VanderLeest. They criticized Nygren’s lawsuit on Wednesday, saying the court action should have been a moot point because it’s not hard to gather 400 valid signatures.

“I think this speaks volumes about their inability to generate enthusiasm for their candidates right now,” party chair Mike Tate said of Wisconsin Republicans.

A message left with the Republican Party of Wisconsin was not immediately returned.

The Nygren situation muddies an election situation that already threatens to confuse voters.

For example, Brown County is covered by both the 30th Senate district, represented by Hansen, and the 2nd district that Republican Sen. Rob Cowles represents. Cowles is also being targeted for recall, in which a primary will be July 12 followed by an Aug. 9 general election.

That means the county clerk’s office will have to prepare ballots for a primary and general election in that race, along with one — and maybe two — sets of ballots in the Hansen race. State election officials also have to make sure voters know which race applies to them and when they need to go to the polls.

Sandy Juno, the chief deputy county clerk in Brown County, said people have already started calling with questions about election dates.

“Things have been changing from day to day,” she said. “I would have to believe if it’s that confusing for those of us running the elections, people voting in this district are going to have a lot of confusion as well.”

Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde@ap.org.

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