Majority of challenged Vernon County votes to stand

Kapanke campaign challenged votes based on clerical errors

The recount for the 32nd state senate race between declared winner and Democrat Jennifer Shilling and Republican Dan Kapanke is getting special attention in Vernon County. Kapanke’s campaign challenged dozens of absentee ballots in three Vernon county municipalities, and at a hearing Thursday morning, the county decided the majority will be counted.

Kapanke’s campaign challenged dozens of votes in the village of Genoa, the town of Kickapoo and the town of Wheatland because of clerical errors in absentee ballots. The new state requirement says absentee ballots need a witness signature on the ballot’s envelope.

When you do in-person absentee voting, the witness is the clerk, and in the three municipalities in question, the clerks didn’t always put down their address.

The Kapanke campaign is arguing that about 40 ballots should be thrown out from the recount for not having the necessary witness address.

“It’s a mandatory provision of the Wisconsin statutes,” Joseph Olson, a lawyer representing Kapanke, said. “It’s a decision that necessarily leads to the conclusion that these ballots have to be excluded.”

The three municipalities’ clerks with the clerical errors on their ballots say they weren’t aware of the law before this week.

“There’s a clerk when somebody votes in person. You need to put your name and address on the envelope, a clerk can no longer just sign the envelope,” Al Buss, clerk in the town of Kickapoo, said. “It’s a subtle change.”

Forty ballots out of the more 14,000 votes cast in Vernon may not seem like much, but only 56 votes put Shilling over Kapanke in the race, and clerks say that every vote should count.

“I absolutely do not agree that these ballots from my town voters should not be counted,” Joann Shultz, clerk in the town of Wheatland, said.

“The voters did nothing wrong, and I made an honest mistake,” Buss said.

Shilling’s campaign lawyer, Matt O’Neill, said that because it wasn’t the voter’s mistake, their votes are valid.

“Where it’s the clerk’s error, not the voter’s error, it’s been consistent throughout the senate district 32 with those ballots being counted,” he said.

The final call came to the Vernon County board of canvassing.

“We made the decision that a lot of other counties have, and if they were witnessed by the clerk, if the clerk did in in their home, or in the office, we would accept them without an address because the clerk is verifying it,” Vernon County clerk Ron Hoff said. “But, if it came by mail it will probably be drawn down,”

Hoff said this means he’s confident that nearly all of the challenged votes will be counted

“It’s decision that was very difficult, because you also need to follow laws and rules, but at the same time, you don’t want to disenfranchise a voter,” Hoff said.

According to Hoff, there are still seven ballots in the town of Genoa that officials will verify to see if they were delivered directly to the clerk, as opposed to by mail. If they were given to the clerk in person, they will stand.

Clerks will be done with the senate seat recount by noon Friday and will begin the state-wide presidential election recount Monday.