Local clerk calls possible proposal to move 2020 presidential primary date ‘extremely unwise’

Lawmakers may consider moving date to March
Voting generic

Local clerks are expressing concern about a possible change to the 2020 presidential primary, saying moving the date could confuse voters and increase costs.

State lawmakers have said they may consider a measure before the end of the year that could reschedule the 2020 presidential primary — a move potentially aimed at helping the state Supreme Court race of a conservative justice seeking re-election.

Currently the 2020 presidential primary is scheduled to coincide with the election for state Supreme Court on April 7, 2020.

Given that voters will decide who may challenge President Donald Trump on the Republican side, it’s likely Democratic turnout will outpace Republican turnout. The result could affect the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, where Justice Daniel Kelly will likely seek election. Kelly was appointed to the court by Gov. Scott Walker in 2016.

Dane county clerk @samcdonell calls possible proposal to move 2020 presidential primary “extremely unwise.” #news3 pic.twitter.com/KN65B3ZsBX

— Jessica Arp (@news3jessica) November 19, 2018

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell sent a letter to legislative leaders Monday, calling a proposal to move the date “extremely unwise from security and procedural perspectives.”

McDonell said in his letter that elections “require weeks of intense work” to prepare, and because of multiple deadlines for voter registrations and absentee ballots, among other things, creating another spring election date could create voter confusion.

“In addition, many counties – generally – larger ones, like Dane – code our own election equipment along with creating, printing and delivering the ballots – all in time for absentee balloting,” McDonell said. “We barely have enough time to do this between February and April as it is.”

City of Madison certified municipal clerk Rachel Rodriguez agreed that creating a new election date could cause multiple issues.

“To keep futzing with what date the election is on doesn’t bode well for election turnout,” Rodriguez told News 3. “Even in the last 2016 presidential primary we had voters who would vote in the February election and think that they should see the presidential primary election on their ballot. I can only imagine what that will be like for voters in February who think it should be on the ballot or the voters who are expecting it on their ballot in April only to find that they might have missed it because it moved to a random date in March.”

Rodriguez and McDonell agreed that costs could increase if an additional election date is added.

“Asking municipal and county clerks to engage in over-lapping elections – February to March to April – is extremely unwise from security and procedural perspectives,” McDonell said in his letter. “WEC estimates that the cost of a Presidential primary would be roughly $7 million. Obviously this unfunded mandate would waste taxpayer money and create incredible logistical nightmares and greatly confuse voters.”

State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, defended the idea in an interview Sunday morning on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” according to Wispolitics.com.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to put the burden of a presidential primary on top of our local races, so that’s what that’s all about,” Darling said.

In that 2016 presidential primary, which was highly contested among Republicans, Justice Rebecca Bradley was elected.

Gousha asked Darling about that in the TV interview Sunday.

“Well, the issue is we found from that election that it really didn’t benefit a lot of other (non-) partisan races,” Darling said. “We want to make a statement that we need to change the national influence on local elections.”

Walker was asked about the possibility of lawmakers moving the date in a news conference Friday and said he was open to changing the date.

Walker said there was a “disconnect” between having the presidential primary on the same day as the spring election.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission said they did not have an immediate estimate on how much an additional race would cost, but the 2016 election, which included a presidential primary cost local clerks about $6 million.

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