MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to allow "fake Democrats" to be placed on primary ballots for the state's May 8 recall elections.
Republicans said there was nothing to prevent them from running phony Democrats in the recall primaries, which resulted from Gov. Scott Walker's so-called Budget Repair Bill, which drastically curtailed the rights of public workers' unions.
Republicans call the ringers "protest candidates," and the Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, said there is nothing wrong with it.
The Government Accountability Board used both terms - fake Democrats and protest candidates - in its statement announcing its unanimous vote.
"We are being asked ... to determine whether candidates are lying," Board Member Timothy Vocke said in the statement issued on the board's letterhead. "That is an impossible task for this board or anybody else to solve. It is something strictly for the voters to do." (Ellipsis in statement.)
Gov. Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three incumbent Republican face recall elections, slated for June 5. A fourth Senate seat is open.
"For a century, Wisconsin has had a system of open primary elections, where the people have the freedom to decide who represents the political parties in a general election, not the party leaders," the Government Accountability Board's director and general counsel Kevin Kennedy said in the statement. "The price of that freedom is what some might consider to be occasional political mischief. No matter how politically objectionable some people may find this, it is not a legal reason to deny someone a place on the ballot. Wisconsin trusts the voters to sort out these issues at the ballot box.
"Wisconsin election laws do not require an individual to be a member of a political party to seek that party's nomination in a primary election. The law also does not permit the Board to inquire into the motivations for an individual's candidacy for office. If it did, a government agency would be making subjective judgments about who is a legitimate political candidate, infringing on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association," Kennedy said.
Because each recall primary is a separate election event, voters may cross parties in the recall primary.
The board's staff recommended that the board deny the challenges to the protest candidates because no statute prohibits a person from submitting nomination papers without the support of the political party whose nomination is sought, or conducting a campaign for office for any political or strategic reason.
Republicans said the goal of the fake Democrats was to ensure there is a primary in all the races so the general elections will be on the same date.
"These candidates are running to ensure election fairness, and today's ruling guarantees that there is one primary and one general election date for all candidates facing a recall," Republican Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Ben Sparks said in a statement.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin said: "Scott Walker and his Republican Party are up to their usual dirty tricks in a desperate attempt to cling to power and subvert the democratic process."
State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate scorched Walker in a statement: "Scott Walker has set all sorts of dubious marks. He has led the nation in job loss. He is the first sitting governor with a criminal defense fund. He has closed our Capitol. He has rolled back access to the ballot. He has taken away rights of workers. He has eliminated wage protections for women. He has become the first governor so close to a criminal corruption probe. Today is yet one more ethical low for Scott Walker, with the certification of candidates whose only purpose is to give him advantage in elections called for under the rules of the Wisconsin Constitution. Scott Walker has no regard for ethics, just as it is becoming clearer that he has no regard for the law. Today represents another stain on Wisconsin's history and traditions of fair play. Wisconsin is a ship without a moral rudder. And that is why Scott Walker, on June 5th, with his recall by the people of Wisconsin, will introduce another first to our state."
The Government Accountability Board also decided not to further investigate a complaint filed by six residents of the districts represented by officials being recalled. The residents alleged criminal violations of Wis. Stat. 12.13, which prohibits making false statements to election officials or falsifying any information in respect to nomination paper or declaration of candidacy.
They called the "fake Democrats" a scheme that "disenfranchises electors who signed nomination papers for the phony candidates believing they were assisting a Democratic effort to unseat a Republican incumbent."
Both parties ran protest candidates during the 2011 recall elections; none made it past the primary. If he loses his seat, Walker will be the third governor recalled in U.S. history.
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