Law Versus Tradition

A little-followed election rule comes under scrutiny just before the Government Accountability Board disbands.

A young political hopeful continues his quest to yank a longtime state Assembly incumbent off the ballot because of an obscure, mostly ignored election law that he claims the incumbent violated. Milwaukee public defender Edgar Lin, 32, is one of three Wisconsinites who are campaigning against Leon Young (D), 49, for the 16th District Wisconsin State Assembly seat that Young has held for nearly 25 years.

Edgar Lin.
Edgar Lin.

Lin seeks to have Young’s name off the primary ballot when polls open Aug. 9. His reason: Young collected too many voter signatures. The obscure state law he’s citing says that candidates must collect at least 200 signatures from eligible voters within their constituency — without turning in more than 400 signatures — before June 1. Young turned in approximately 50 extras, and things got dicier when it was discovered that 204 of Young’s signatures were removed specifically because they came from signees who did not reside within the district.

“We were really shocked,” Lin said in a later interview with the Milwaukee Magazine. “(It) raised a really big red flag for us.” It raised red flags for members of the Government Accountability Board, too, but ultimately not enough. In the end, the GAB voted 4-2 in Young’s favor, allowing him to defend his seat in the upcoming election. The decision resulted mainly from the GAB’s general feeling that the past practice currently overpowered the letter of the law. Still, the Board advised that the statute and its interpretation should be reviewed in the future.

The Challenge

Lin’s challenge was one of the final cases the GAB would ever hear, as the Wisconsin State Senate controversially voted to dissolve the Board in November in a cross-party but highly contested vote. Active July 1, two new commissions – one for elections, one for ethics laws – of bipartisan politicians filled the vacancy left by the board. Regardless of the GAB’s looming demise, the case was heard much like any other in the court: Lin stated his grievance and evidence for it, Young defended his actions, the board deliberated.

The primary argument against allowing Young’s additional signatures was the purported “slippery slope” that the precedent could create. Lin cited the needlessness of amassing so many excess signatures, or any extras at all. “That, I think, creates a very bad precedence,” Lin said. “I ask this board to consider the interpretation that 200 to 400 means 200 to 400, not 200 to 10,000.”

Leon Young.
Leon Young.

Young admitted to the lack of diligence that led to his plethora of mistakes and going over the maximum – considering the sheer number of errors made ­– but found Lin’s argument to be unfounded since it went against the rituals of Wisconsin elections and that no true harm had been done by collecting a few extra signatures. “It sounds like my challenger is trying to penalize me for going over and beyond what is needed,” Young said.

Looking Forward

“It’s inevitable that you’re going to lose some (signatures), therefore I think you ought to expect people who are running for political office to come in with as many signatures as they can possibly get,” said Hon. Timothy Vocke, a GAB member who would later vote in Young’s favor.

Hon. Gerald Nichol disagreed with Vocke, but would end up siding with Young on account of the accepted habit. “It would be unfair to representative Young to disqualify him because he went over the limit because it’s been a practice for some time,” he said. Still, Nichol advised that petition circulators need to be more attentive and thorough, placing the accountability for that on the candidates themselves; a responsibility that Young said he would assume going forward.

Currently, both candidates are focused on their present campaigns with the only one month away. However, the challenge may not be over, as Lin is appealing the case to a Wisconsin Circuit Court judge for a legal review, an appeal that could overturn the now-defunct GAB’s ruling. Should the appeal go against Young, the 16th District will have its first new representative in more than two decades.



Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan