- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) - A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to force a redesign of Wisconsin ballots just six weeks before the Nov. 4 election, saying the complaint first should have been filed with the state elections board.

Republican legislative leaders who filed the lawsuit said they will be dropping the case but hope county clerks will create ballots that are fair and easy to understand.

The campaign committees for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald last week filed the lawsuit arguing that the model ballot is confusing, gives undue prominence to Democratic candidates and makes it hard to tell which office candidates are seeking. They asked a judge to force the Government Accountability Board to redesign the ballots, a move that elections officials dismissed as costly and not practical so close to the election.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge James Kieffer, after a 30-minute hearing, sided with the GAB and said the law requires that such complaints first go through that panel that oversees elections. The judge also said the campaign committees did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

Such a lawsuit needs to come from an actual voter, Kieffer said.

Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, attended the hearing and said afterward that he was pleased with the quick dismissal of the case.

Vos and Fitzgerald said in a statement it defies logic that they first have to go before the GAB to plead their case against the board. They won’t be taking that step, Vos and Fitzgerald said, because they believe the GAB “lacks impartiality.”

There are always complaints about ballot design, Kennedy said, but the board is focused on creating a model ballot that serves a diverse population. Counties are required to “substantially follow” the model ballot, and GAB staff review any changes, but ultimately local officials can design the ballots as they wish.

Kennedy said only 16 counties are following the model ballot exactly.

The judge said he was “somewhat taken aback” to learn that there could be 72 different ballots across the state. Kennedy said after the hearing that the variance is due largely to demands placed on local officials by printers and how the ballots are counted. Most are fed through optical scanning equipment.

The judge did not take arguments on the actual merits of the case, instead focusing on whether the lawsuit was properly filed in circuit court.

The new model ballot offered by the GAB no longer has the shading or a line after the title of the office and the name of the first candidate. Republicans argue that makes it difficult for voters to tell where one race ends and another begins, and leads voters to assume that the first candidate listed is the only one running for a particular office.

Democratic candidates are listed first this year. Republicans were first in 2012.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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