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Oconomowoc’s mayoral election mess goes on

Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 5, 2020

MADISON — There will be no mayoral candidates’ names on this month’s primary ballot in Oconomowoc as the Wisconsin Elections Commission weighs in on a complaint filed in the controversial contest. 

Oconomowoc City Council President Louis Kowieski alleges the city’s clerk abused her discretion and misapplied the law in removing his name from the election ballot. That left two candidates in the race. Because Kowieski is technically out for now, there was no need to put the remaining candidates on the ballot until the spring election in April. 

Last week, Kowieski filed a complaint with the Elections Commission, which has given each side 10 business days to respond. Agency spokesman Reid Magney said the commission is hoping the parties will respond quickly “so we can expedite.” 

As Empower Wisconsin reported, Oconomowoc resident Tara Lynn Fox last month challenged signatures on Kowieski’s petition. Fox is being assisted by the Waukesha County Democratic Party and is represented by Milwaukee attorney Michael Maistelman, a Democrat who has served as lawyer for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Kowieski is known as a “business-friendly” conservative. 

Clerk Diane Coenen investigated the signatures and ultimately removed some, leaving Kowieski with 200 signatures on his nomination form — the minimum required to make it on to the ballot. 

Fox then appealed to the Elections Commission. A staff attorney there apparently found Coenen miscounted the signatures, that there were only 198 included in the nomination papers. But instead of taking the matter to the commission to resolve, the attorney quietly called the clerk telling her she made a mistake. 

Coenen then released a one-sentence statement claiming that she messed up, and that she had seen the light from the Elections Commission. She was “persuaded.” 

Kowieski charges the city clerk shouldn’t have struck as many signatures as she did. His complaint references state election law, which provides for a “presumption of validity” in nomination signatures. 

Kowieski also alleges the clerk’s jurisdiction ended when Fox filed her complaint with the Elections Commission.

On Tuesday, Coenen responded to the complaint, writing that she came to her final decision because, “upon further review, an insufficient number of valid signatures were presented.” She offered no further response. 

Fox has asked to intervene in the complaint. 

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