The Legislature should allow candidates to gather electronic signatures for the August primary

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Starting April 15, candidates running for the Wisconsin State Assembly, Senate, and Congress will have to start gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot. To qualify for the ballot, assembly candidates need a minimum 200 legal signatures, 400 for Senate, and 1000 for Congress. Candidates will have until June 1 to gather the required number of signatures.

Gov. Evers’s mandatory stay at home orders will make it extremely difficult for candidates to begin the process of getting signatures. The Governor’s orders extend to April 24 and do not exempt local candidates from gathering signatures.

Governor Evers is requesting the State Legislature to extend the stay at home order, indefinitely. Virginia’s Governor stay at home order goes to June 1, it would only be assumed that any indefinite order would go through May. The Governor does need Legislative approval to extend the order indefinitely, it is unclear as of now where the Legislature stands on this.

In normal times candidates would canvass for signatures, stand outside of local establishments in their district, and reach out to volunteers to help collect signatures from voters in the district. The big question I am hearing from local candidates is how to go about collecting signatures with social distancing recommendations and the stay at home order. Under these circumstances, the only way for candidates to meet the signature requirements would be to mail nomination forms to person(s) in that candidate’s district or sending them via email and hoping the forms are sent back to you and it’s done properly. That may seem feasible with today’s technology and channels of communication, but what if you’re a first-time candidate and you do not have a list of supporters, yet? Or you don’t have the resources to use mail? It is very challenging to gather signatures this way; the process is generally done in-person with the candidate or volunteers asking someone to sign.

It is unfair to candidates running for office to obtain signatures when the government is requiring them to stay home and to practice social distancing.

One possible way to help candidates is to allow for electronic signatures through a service like DocuSign or a state-created process. Surely gathering electronic signatures could be much easier than mailing or emailing nomination forms and hoping it is sent back. An electronic signature can be done via text, email, internet petition, on the candidate’s website, and online advertisement. And it’s instant, it can be completed in seconds.

I do not believe, from what I have read, that state law or any rule prevents candidates from gathering signatures electronically. There are statutory requirements for what information must be on the nomination forms but with technology that can be done.

Also, per the Wisconsin Election Commission, the signature form can be “reproduced in any way.”

What does that mean? Can a nomination form be produced electronically if the required information and rules are followed?

The Legislature must do something to create a process to make it easier to fulfill this requirement to get on the ballot for the primary, especially given that candidates are being limited to take the necessary steps to fulfill the ballot requirements.  The Legislature could possibly consider lowering the threshold of the number of signatures. But then that creates other problems of having multiple, unqualified candidates on the ballot.

Any changes should be temporary, and not a new standard for future elections.

More information on ballot requirements can be found here:

https://elections.wi.gov/sites/elections.wi.gov/files/gab_forms/3/el_168_nomination_paper_for_partisan_office_2016__14702.pdf

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Chris Lawrence is currently the 1st Vice Chair of the Milwaukee County Republican Party. Formerly, he worked in the Wisconsin Legislature for conservative Sen. Duey Stroebel where he oversaw all incoming communications, managed the senator’s schedule, and handled all constituent inquires. Chris has an extensive background in community organizing, event planning, and volunteer recruitment. He worked at Americans for Prosperity (AFP) from 2014-2017 where he started as a part-time canvasser and grew into the Senior Field Director, managing all AFP operations in Milwaukee County and overseeing part-time staff. While at AFP, he worked on some of the most successful issue campaigns in Wisconsin, including Right to Work, repeal of the prevailing wage, the REINS Act, and other pro-taxpayer reforms. Chris has a B.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his 3 daughters and son.