By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking changes to the newly redesigned ballot for the November election, claiming the one drafted by the nonpartisan elections agency unfairly benefits Democrats.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald filed the lawsuit in Waukesha County Circuit Court against the Government Accountability Board. The complaint argues that the model ballot drafted by the GAB is confusing, gives undo prominence to Democratic candidates and makes it difficult for voters to tell which office the candidates are seeking.
The state’s chief elections officer, Kevin Kennedy, defended the ballot design on Tuesday before the lawsuit was filed. He said concerns that the ballot benefits Democrats was “absurd” and that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to change and reprint them.
“I don’t think the issue that’s been presented is anything other than something to gin up some partisan activity,” Kennedy said when asked about the issue during a news conference.
Both the GAB and the state Department of Justice, which would defend the agency, declined to comment about the lawsuit.
The ballot design is unfair because Democratic candidates are listed first under the name of the office being sought and Republican candidates are separated by a line, the lawsuit said.
Democrats are listed first, per state law, based on results in the 2012 election where President Barack Obama won Wisconsin. Republican candidates were listed first in 2012 because Gov. Scott Walker won election in 2010.
The new ballot design is “extremely likely to violate the right to vote of thousands, if not millions of Wisconsin electors,” according to the lawsuit.
Vos, speaking on WTMJ-AM on Wednesday morning, said the redesigned ballots “clearly benefit the Democrats.” He said he asked Kennedy on Monday to redesign them but that Kennedy declined, which led to the lawsuit.
“We have more than enough time to print more ballots, get them sent out,” Vos said.
The lawsuit seeks a court order to block the GAB from forcing local election officials to use the model ballot. It also asks the court to stop the GAB from preventing counties from using other ballots that don’t conform with the model. The Brown County clerk asked GAB to approve a ballot that included the line after the title of the office being sought, but it was rejected by the elections board, the lawsuit said.
Kennedy on Tuesday said that ballots are frequently tweaked, and that objections are raised whenever changes are made.
“The fact that someone would attribute any partisan motivation to the staff of the GAB is where I use the term that it’s absurd,” Kennedy said. “This is a group of people who dedicate themselves to being fair and impartial and when they look at ballot design they’re looking at what’s best. They’re not perfect, they’re not experts. I have some quibbles with the way some of the things came out.”
Kennedy did not say what his issues were with the ballots, but he said he did not believe any changes were necessary.
“The ballot looks different,” Kennedy said. “We’ve made some changes. They’re not significant differences.”Follow @sbauerAP