2004 WI 6
CASE NO.: COMPLETE TITLE:
02-0542 Patricia H. Roth, Petitioner-Respondent-Petitioner, v. LaFarge School District Board of Canvassers, Respondent-Respondent, Gail J. Muller, Third Party-PetitionerAppellant. REVIEW OF A DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS 2002 WI App 309 Reported at: 259 Wis. 2d 349, 655 N.W.2d 471 (Ct. App. 2002-Published)
OPINION FILED: SUBMITTED ON BRIEFS: ORAL ARGUMENT: SOURCE OF APPEAL: COURT: COUNTY: JUDGE: JUSTICES: CONCURRED: DISSENTED: NOT PARTICIPATING: ATTORNEYS:
February 4, 2004 October 8, 2003
Circuit Monroe Michael J. McAlpine
BRADLEY, J., concurs (opinion filed).
For the petitioner-respondent-petitioner there were briefs by Christopher J. Blythe and Lawton & Cates, S.C., Madison, and oral argument by Christopher J. Blythe. For the third party-petitioner-appellant there was a brief by George C. Wilbur, LaFarge, and oral argument by George C. Wilbur. For the respondent-respondent there was a brief (in the court of appeals) by David L. Jenkins and Jenkins and Stittleburg, Viroqua.
2004 WI 6
This opinion is subject to further editing and modification. The final version will appear in the bound volume of the official reports.
00 CV 154)
STATE OF WISCONSIN Patricia H. Roth, Petitioner-RespondentPetitioner, v. LaFarge School District Board of Canvassers, Respondent-Respondent, Gail J. Muller, Third Party-PetitionerAppellant.
IN SUPREME COURT
FEB 4, 2004
Cornelia G. Clark Clerk of Supreme Court
REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals.
N. PATRICK seeks
CROOKS, review the
J. a of
Court, which had concluded that a "no" vote cast in the LaFarge School District referendum should not be counted. conclude that, on the ballot in question Because we with
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c) (1999-2000),1 there is a qualifying mark in a qualifying place, we hold that the court of appeals'
decision should be affirmed and that, using § 7.50(2)(c), the "no" vote should of be counted. the We conclude of that the with proper becomes
readily ascertainable in this case. the Board of Canvassers (Board) did
We further conclude that not properly apply the
statute since, on the ballot in question, there is a qualifying mark in a qualifying place. The November 2000 referendum thus
ended in a tie vote, and the question of funding for school improvements was defeated. I ¶2 The November 7, 2000 referendum was held to determine After
whether a project for school improvements should proceed.2
Unless otherwise indicated, all references to Wisconsin Statutes are to the 1999-2000 edition. The referendum following question:
"Shall the following Initial Resolution be approved?" Initial Resolution Authorizing General Obligation Bonds of the School District of LaFarge in an Amount Not to Exceed $2,250,000 The School Board of the School District of LaFarge (the "District") hereby resolves as follows: Under and by virtue of the provisions of Chapter 67, Wisconsin Statutes, the District shall issue its general obligation bonds, in a sum not to exceed the amount of $2,250,000, for the following purposes: (a) Constructing and equipping a locker room and fitness room addition totaling approximately 2
closed, to the 392
were cast the
counted. for the
referendum. the voting
Wisconsin Stat. § 5.01(4)(d)
results in a tie, the referendum has been defeated.3 ¶3 voted in Roth, an elector of the LaFarge School District who the referendum, requested a recount of the ballots
pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 9.01.4 November 11, 2000.
The Board conducted a recount on
The recount resulted in a tie, as 389 votes
2,100 square feet to an existing Elementary, Junior High and Senior High Buildings located at 301 West Adams Street, LaFarge, Wisconsin; (b) Major/minor remodeling of existing Elementary, Junior and Senior High complex, including roof repair, asbestos removal, installation of elevator, lift and ramps for ADA accessibility, boiler replacement, window replacement, HVAC modifications, electrical upgrades and other general remodelling; Bus garage flooring, parking and paving, drain tile and earth work and other fixed equipment; and Architect, engineering, legal and closing costs
At the bottom of the ballot, the word "yes" appeared with a box to the right of it, indicating the space for voters to mark. Similarly, the word "no" appeared with a box to the right of it. Wisconsin Stat. § 5.01(4)(d) provides, in relevant part: "If a question is submitted to the electors and an equal number of votes are cast for and against adoption, the question fails adoption." Wisconsin Stat. § Petition; fees; general at any election or any question at any election
9.01 provides, in relevant part: "(1) procedures. (a) Any candidate voted for elector who voted upon any referendum may request a recount." 3
were cast for the referendum and 389 votes were cast against the referendum. failed. ¶4 During the recount, the Board disqualified three "yes" Of the three "yes" votes, one was Thus, the Board declared that the referendum had
votes and three "no" votes.5
disqualified because the initials of only one poll worker were on the ballot, as opposed to the two sets of initials that are required by Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2). Of the three "no" votes, one
was disqualified because the Board determined that the mark had been erased and, thus, should not be counted under § 7.50(2)(c). Gail Muller (Muller), an elector of the LaFarge School District who voted in the referendum, was present at the recount, and questioned the Board's assessment that the mark had been erased.6 ¶5 Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 9.01(6),7 Roth filed a notice
of appeal in the Vernon County Circuit Court, asserting that the
The record indicates that the Board disqualified three absentee ballots due to the electors' failure to comply with the directions. Two votes were disqualified for failure to be witnessed, and one was disqualified due to the absence of an elector's signature on the absentee envelope. This resulted in the disqualification of one "yes" vote and two "no" votes. It is not specified why the other votes were disqualified. With respect to the "no" vote, the recount minutes state the following: "One ballot looks erased——3 canvassers cannot determine with reasonable certainty what was intended. Ballot set aside. (#0002). Everyone in audience witnessed ballot——no challenges but a question by one (Gayle Muller)."
Wisconsin Stat. § 9.01(6) provides, in relevant part: 4
"yes" vote was improperly disqualified. for intervention. referendum's
Muller filed a motion
Muller stated that she had an interest in the and, as no other party represented her
interests, she would be harmed if the circuit court prevented her from intervening. proposed counterclaim Moreover, Muller attached to her motion a to the effect that the "no" vote motion was to
intervene, stating that Muller should not be allowed to oppose Roth's claim or raise new legal issues, because she failed to comply with the time directives of § 9.01(6)(a). ¶6 Vernon that County Muller Circuit should not Judge be Michael allowed to Rosborough intervene
because she was time barred.
The circuit court further held
that the "yes" vote should have been counted, despite the fact that some of the procedural requirements were not followed. circuit court noted that Wis. Stat. § 5.01(1) emphasizes The that
statutes are to be construed so as to give effect to the intent of the voter. Muller appealed.
(a) Within 5 business days after completion of the recount determination by the board of canvassers in all counties concerned, or within 5 business days after completion of the recount determination by the chairperson of the board or the chairperson's designee whenever a determination is made by the chairperson or designee, any candidate, or any elector when for a referendum, aggrieved by the recount may appeal to circuit court. 5
The court of appeals8 concluded that the circuit court
erred when it prevented Muller from asserting her own claim. The court noted that the deadline for filing The an appeal of is
applicable to aggrieved
noted that Muller was not an aggrieved party, as she opposed the referendum Muller had and no the recount to of resulted appeal appeals in the its failure. Thus, results. Muller
standing the court
satisfied the necessary requirements to intervene as a matter of right, and should be able to raise her own claim. appeals further concluded that the circuit The court of correctly However,
decided that the "yes" vote should have been counted.
because the "no" vote was not part of the record, the court of appeals remanded of the cause the to the circuit court, that for a
intent could not be ascertained from the ballot, was supported by substantial evidence. ¶8 did not Circuit Judge Michael McAlpine9 found that the Board misinterpret Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c).10 The circuit
The decision of this court is later referred to as Roth v. LaFarge Sch. Dist. Bd. of Canvassers, 2001 WI App 221, 247 Wis. 2d 708, 634 N.W.2d 882 (Roth I). Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 801.58, Muller filed a request for substitution of a new judge for Judge Michael Rosborough. Judge Michael McAlpine was subsequently assigned to this matter.
Wisconsin Stat. § 7.50(2)(c) provides, in relevant part: 6
court noted that determining voter intent is a finding of fact. The court determined to that there was substantial the evidence, Board's
Wis. Stat. § 9.01(8),11
(2) Ascertainment of intent. All ballots cast at an election which bear the initials of 2 inspectors shall be counted for the person or referendum question for whom or for which they were intended, so far as the electors' intent can be ascertained from the ballots notwithstanding informality or failure to fully comply with other provisions of chs. 5 to 12. .... (c) If an elector marks a ballot with a cross (X), or any other marks, as I, A, V, O, /, √, +, within the square to the right of a candidate's name, or any place within the space in which the name appears, indicating an intent to vote for that candidate, it is a vote for the candidate whose name it is opposite.
Wisconsin Stat. § 9.01(8) provides, in relevant part:
Unless the court finds a ground for setting aside or modifying the determination of the board of canvassers or the chairperson of the board or chairperson's designee, it shall affirm the determination. The court shall separately treat disputed issues of procedure, interpretations of law and findings of fact. The court may not receive evidence not offered to the board of canvassers or the chairperson or chairperson's designee except for evidence that was unavailable to a party exercising due diligence at the time of the recount or newly discovered evidence that could not with due diligence have been obtained during the recount, and except that the court may receive evidence not offered at an earlier time because a party was not represented by counsel in all or part of a recount proceeding. . . . The court shall set aside or modify the determination if it finds that the board of canvassers or the chairperson or chairperson's designee has erroneously 7
¶9 and the
The court of appeals12 concluded that the circuit court Board erroneously interpreted and applied
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c).
The court of appeals concluded that
§ 7.50(2)(c) is ambiguous, as it lends itself to two possible interpretations. and an intent It could require both the presence of a mark to vote. Conversely, § 7.50(2)(c) could be
interpreted to stand for the proposition that any mark indicates an intent to vote. within § 7.50(2)(c), prefers While attempting to resolve the ambiguity the to court of appeals and noted save that them the from
The court of appeals reasoned that § 7.50(2)(c)
provides that there is an intent to vote when there is a mark in the appropriate space. Thus, the court of appeals concluded
that, since there was a mark in the space designated for a "no" vote, the "no" vote should be counted, a decision that resulted in a tie vote on the referendum.
interpreted a provision of law and a correct interpretation compels a particular action. If the determination depends on any fact found by the board of canvassers or the chairperson or chairperson's designee, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the board of canvassers or the chairperson or designee as to the weight of the evidence on any disputed finding of fact. The court shall set aside the determination if it finds that the determination depends on any finding of fact that is not supported by substantial evidence. The decision of this court is later referred to as Roth v. LaFarge Sch. Dist. Bd. of Canvassers, 2002 WI App 309, 259 Wis. 2d 349, 655 N.W.2d 471 (Roth II).
November 2003. question of
At oral argument, it was suggested that the the "no" vote should be counted may be
rendered moot by the outcome of the November 2003 referendum.13 Since that referendum that now has now we been will conducted, address the under issue the of
whether the Board properly applied Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c), in regard to the referendum held on November 7, 2000. II ¶11 As an initial matter, we must address Roth's
allegation that the court of appeals violated the law of the case doctrine. Roth asserts that the court in Roth v. LaFarge
Sch. Dist. Bd. of Canvassers, 2001 WI App 221, 247 Wis. 2d 708, 634 N.W.2d 882 (Roth I) concluded that the Board's determination was a finding of fact, which the circuit court should review using Wis. Stat. § 9.01(8). Roth further argues that the Roth I
court stated that Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm) does not stand for the proposition that an apparent erasure must be counted. Roth
claims that the court of appeals ignored its own directives in Roth v. LaFarge Sch. Dist. Bd. of Canvassers, 2002 WI App 309, 259 Wis. 2d 349, 655 N.W.2d 471 (Roth II), when it concluded
newspaper report indicates that the November 2003 LaFarge School District referendum failed. With respect to whether up to $720,000 in bonds should be issued to make improvements and upgrade existing buildings and library holdings, 138 votes were cast in favor of the referendum and 265 votes were cast against the referendum. LaFarge Referendum, Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 6, 2003, at B3. 9
that the "no" vote should have been counted as a matter of law. Moreover, she claims that in Roth II the court stated that, according to 7.50(2)(cm), an apparent erasure signifies an
intent to vote. the law of the
Roth argues that the court of appeals violated case doctrine, as Roth I and Roth II have
inconsistent holdings. ¶12 We are not bound by the law of the case doctrine. In
Univest Corp. v. Gen. Split Corp., 148 Wis. 2d 29, 38-39, 435 N.W.2d 234 (1989), we noted that "the law of the case doctrine is not a rule to which this court is bound by any legislative enactment, nor is it a rule to be inexorably followed in every case." within We further held that "once the case is before us, it is our discretion and under these issue standards which the to case review any
regardless of whether a prior decision established the law of the case." Id. at 39. Thus, we are in no way bound by the
court of appeals' determination in this matter, but certainly we benefit from the decisions of the court of appeals, the circuit court, and the Board of Canvassers. III ¶13 We now address whether Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c) was
correctly applied in this case.
As noted previously, during
oral argument, Muller's attorney stated that the LaFarge School District would be holding a new referendum in November 2003. Muller's attorney stated that if the new referendum passed, the results of the November 2000 referendum would be negated. Thus,
he stated, the issue before this court could be rendered moot. 10
A case is moot if a decision in the matter will not have any practical effect upon an existing legal controversy. Milwaukee
Police Ass'n v. Milwaukee, 92 Wis. 2d 175, 183, 285 N.W.2d 133 (1979). ¶14 Nevertheless, this court may address a moot issue if:
(1) the issue is of great public importance; (2) the situation occurs so frequently that a definitive decision is necessary to guide circuit courts; (3) the issue is likely to arise again and a decision of the court would alleviate uncertainty; or (4) the issue will likely be repeated, but evades appellate review
because the appellate review process cannot be completed or even undertaken in time to have a practical effect on the parties. State ex rel. Hensley v. Endicott, 2001 WI 105, LaFarge ¶5, 245
Wis. 2d 607,
District's referendum passes is an important issue, and this court should render a decision in this case, regardless of
whether the matter is moot or not. ¶15 We review the court of appeals' decision, which
reviewed the decision of the Board, not the decision of the circuit court. 211, ¶10, 238 Univ. of Wisconsin v. Dane County, 2000 WI App Wis. 2d 810, 618 N.W.2d 537. The Board of
Canvasser's determination was, in this case, a determination as a matter of law, since it involved the interpretation and
application of a statute.
More specifically, we must determine
whether the Board of Canvassers committed a legal error with respect to its interpretation and application of
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c).14 conclusions of such a
This board de
Vanderperren, 2003 WI 37, ¶20, 261 Wis. 2d 150, 661 N.W.2d 27; "K" Care, Inc. v. Town of Lac du Flambeau, 181 Wis. 2d 59, 65, 510 N.W.2d 697 (Ct. App. 1993). ¶16 To aid in our discussion, a description of the ballot In the box to the right of the word
in question is warranted.
"no" on the ballot, there is a clearly visible slash (\) mark written in pencil. ¶17 Roth See attached exhibit at page 20. that the Roth II court misinterpreted
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c).
Roth contends that there must be both
a mark and an intent to vote by the voter, in order for a vote to qualify under is § 7.50(2)(c). by the Roth states in that this
According to Roth, the legislature intended to provide for the Board's subjective analysis when voter intent was not clear. Roth further asserts that the interpretation proposed by Roth II, that even apparent erasures must be counted, flies in the face of Wis. Stat. § 5.01(1).15 Roth argues that, under this
Because our focus is on whether the Board correctly interpreted and applied Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c), we decline to utilize DeBroux v. Bd. of Canvassers for City of Appleton, 206 Wis. 2d 321, 557 N.W.2d 423 (Ct. App. 1996), which focuses on a board's findings of fact. Wisconsin Stat. § 5.01(1) provides, in relevant part: "Except as otherwise provided, chs. 5 to 12 shall be construed to give effect to the will of the electors, if that can be ascertained from the proceedings, notwithstanding informality or failure to fully comply with some of their provisions." 12
counted as a vote. ¶18 Muller counters that the legislature's intent, by
enacting Wis. Stat. § 5.01(1), was to give effect to the will of voters. the mark. Muller contends that an erasure must actually remove If there is a mark, Muller asserts that the Board
must count the mark as a vote, as the legislature did not give the Board discretion to declare that a visible mark is an
erasure. forth in
Muller states that, according to the requirements set Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c), the "no" vote should be
Section 7.50(2)(c) states, in relevant part, that a
vote should be counted "(i)f an elector marks a ballot with a cross (X), or any other marks, as I, A, V, O, /, √, +, within the square to an the intent right to of vote the for candidate’s that name, . . . Muller
contends that the language of § 7.50(2)(c) is not qualified by the clause "unless it is light or looks erased." Muller asserts
that the Roth II court's interpretation of § 7.50(2)(c) comports with long established Wisconsin precedent to give effect to the will of the voter, as exemplified in voter intent cases such as State ex rel. Wood v. Baker, 38 Wis. 71 (1875), and Ollmann v. Kowalewski, 238 Wis. 574, 300 N.W. 183 (1941). ¶19 Wisconsin courts have consistently noted that they do
not want to deprive voters of the chance to have their votes counted. confronted In State ex rel. Wood, 38 Wis. at 84, this court was with the question of whether a defective voter We
registry should result in the disenfranchisement of voters. 13
process of voter registry, but the fact that the registry was defective did not mean that the votes should not be counted. Id. at 88. The statute allowing the voters' voluntary
supervision of the registry had to be construed, so as to render the right of suffrage unencumbered and unimpaired. ¶20 Id.
In State ex rel. Blodgett v. Eagan, 115 Wis. 417, 418,
91 N.W. 984 (1902), two ballots were originally excluded from an election for the office of assessor because the voters wrote in, in longhand, the name of one candidate, yet failed to cross out the name of the candidate whom they did not intend to elect. After discussing Wisconsin's tradition of giving effect to the will of the voter, this court stated that the voter's intention that can be discerned from the ballot itself should control. Id. at 419-20. We concluded that "the voter shall not be
disenfranchised because of mere mistake, but his intention shall prevail . . . ." ¶21 Id. at 421.
In State ex rel. Symmonds v. Barnett, 182 Wis. 114,
129, 195 N.W. 707 (1923), we concluded that registered voters, whose names had been omitted from the voter registry lists
through the fault of election officials, should not have their votes invalidated. The Barnett opinion noted the State ex rel.
Wood reasoning, which stated that voters should not be deprived of their constitutional right to vote simply because election officials have failed to perform their duties. Id. at 132.
Although a statutory provision provided that ballots must be indorsed with the initials of a ballot clerk in order to be 14
declared valid, the fact that this provision was not complied with did not invalidate the absentee voter ballots at issue. Id. We noted that to disqualify the ballots would deprive the
voters of their constitutional rights, because of the negligence of the election officers. ¶22 249 N.W. Id.
In State ex rel. Graves v. Wiegand, 212 Wis. 286, 288, 537 (1933), the inspectors with a were at several that election the
failed to comply procedures that
statute to be
ballots to the county clerk. the votes should be counted.
Nevertheless, this court held that Id. at 296. We stated that the
primary concern was the protection of the rights and interests of the voters. Id. at 292. Voting statutes are to be construed
so as to give effect to the intent of the voter, notwithstanding the fact that there was a failure to comply with some of the provisions governing that elections. ballots are Id. the Moreover, best we noted, of the
intention of voters. ¶23
Id. at 293.
In Ollmann, 238 Wis. at 577-78, this court refused to
disqualify ballots where two ballot clerks each wrote their own initials and the initials of the other clerk on each ballot that was cast. Although this practice violated the statute governing
the initialing of the ballots, we noted that to construe the statute as mandatory would be unconstitutional in this case. Id. at 578. We analogized the situation to the circumstances
that were present in State ex rel. Wood and stated that the failure on the part of the election officials to perform their 15
duties should not deprive the voters of their constitutional right to vote. Id. at 579. A ballot legally cast by a voter Id.
cannot be rejected, if it expresses the will of the voter. at 580.
Moreover, this court stated that a ballot could not be
randomly withdrawn from consideration simply because the number of votes cast could not be reconciled with the number of names checked off of the registry. Id. The voters would be
disenfranchised if their ballots were removed from consideration through no fault of their own. ¶24 Id.
In Petition of Leuch, 244 Wis. 305, 317, 12 N.W.2d 61
(1943), we held that the voters who cast their ballots in the election for municipal judge should not be disenfranchised,
because the election commissioners did not have enough time to reprint the ballots so as to include the name of a new
candidate. board's ballots,
Although there was no statutory authority for the stickers and for pasting elections them on the be Id.
action in printing the statutory
construed so as to give effect to the will of the voters. at 314.
We further noted a relevant statutory provision, which
stated that ballots should be counted for the persons for whom they were intended when voter intent can be ascertained. ¶25 In Hackbarth v. Erickson, 147 Id. 433
Wis. 2d 467,
N.W.2d 266 (1988), the court of appeals gave effect to the will of the voter even when the error was due to the voter's own mistake. In Hackbarth, the court of appeals declined to
disqualify eight ballots that were marked with an "X" in the box after the mayoral candidate's name, yet also contained the
candidate's name as a write-in for the position of alderman. Id. at 469. Noting Wisconsin's longstanding tradition of giving
effect to the will of the voter, the court rejected the idea that the ballot markings could be attributed to the mistake or indecision of the voter. ¶26 involve Id. at 473.
We recognize that many of the abovementioned cases mistakes committed by election officials, and not
whether a voter apparently expressed his or her intent, as was at issue in this case. Nevertheless, we think Wisconsin's
position on recognizing voter intent is clear. that this court has consistently placed a
It is evident on giving
effect to the will of the voter.
Thus, we conclude that the
Board legally erred when it misapplied Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c), resulting in the disqualification of the "no" vote. The Board
may use its discretion and make findings only when the standards of a statute do not apply. By enacting § 7.50(2)(c), the
legislature attempted to minimize a board's discretion. § 7.50(2)(c) applies, as there is a qualifying mark
Here, in a
qualifying place on the ballot at issue. ¶27 We conclude that with proper application of
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c) the intent of the voter becomes readily ascertainable in this case. Section 7.50(2)(c) provides that a
vote will be counted if a cross, slash, or other mark similar to the eight examples listed in the statute is present in a
qualifying place on the ballot. question reveals that, at the
An examination of the ballot in very least, there is a slash
through the box to the right of the word "no." 17
§ 7.50(2)(c), the mark was made in a qualifying place on the ballot, as it was placed in the box to the right of the word "no." Because there is a qualifying mark in a qualifying place
on the ballot, the vote should be counted, so as to give effect to the will of the voter. ¶28 Roth asserts that the reasoning in Schmidt v. West
Bend Bd. of Canvassers, 18 Wis. 2d 316, 118 N.W.2d 154 (1962) appropriately resolves the question before us. In Schmidt, we
were confronted with the question of whether a cancelled voting mark should be counted as a vote cast for that candidate. at 321. Id.
The ballot in question contained a cross in the square
opposite a mayoral candidate, which was rendered barely visible by a heavy shading that filled the square entirely. Id. In
contrast, the squares for the three other offices on the ballot were marked with a simple "X." Id. In Schmidt, we stated that
the circuit court reasonably concluded that the shading, which obliterated the entire square, reflected the voter's effort to cancel his or her vote for the mayoral candidate. ¶29 to the Id.
We disagree that the facts in this case may be likened circumstances to achieve ballot in a in Schmidt. complete Schmidt In Schmidt, there of the marks was an
indicated an intent to vote for candidates running for other offices. category In this case, there is a mark that fits within the of those enumerated by Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c). In
contrast to Schmidt, there is no indication that the voter in this case attempted to remove 18 his or her vote from
Moreover, the voter in this case was required to Thus, there is no further example of
vote for only one issue.
the voter's marks for other candidates or issues, rendering a comparison between the mark in question and other marks made by the voter impossible in this situation. Due to the significant
differences between Schmidt and the present circumstances, we conclude that Schmidt is distinguishable from the facts of this case. Because the ballot in this case indicates an intent to
vote "no" on the referendum, we conclude that this vote should be counted. IV ¶30 that, We affirm the court of appeals' decision the and "no" hold vote
Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c),
should be counted. § 7.50(2)(c) the
We conclude that with proper application of intent of the voter becomes readily
ascertainable in this case.
We further conclude that on the
ballot in question, there is a qualifying mark in a qualifying place. The Board of Canvassers did not properly apply
§ 7.50(2)(c); the November 2000 referendum, therefore, resulted in a tie vote, and the question of funding for school
improvements was defeated. By the Court.—The decision of the court of appeals is
(concurring). However, I
conclusion in a manner very different from that embraced by my colleagues. We part ways because I believe that the majority As a result,
accurately describes only a part of the picture.
it ignores a standard of review, which requires here that the Board of Canvasser's findings of fact be upheld. respectfully concur. ¶32 We should have learned long ago that by accurately only a part of the picture, we run the risk of Accordingly, I
distorting the whole.
So it was for those who contested the By accurately describing only
claim that the world was round.
that part which was visible and flat, they distorted the whole. ¶33 And, so it is with the majority. By accurately
describing part of the ballot as containing "a clearly visible slash mark (\) written in pencil" (Majority op., ¶16) but
failing to describe the rest of the picture, the majority runs the risk of distorting the whole. ¶34 The whole, as viewed by the Board of Canvassers,
depicts an indentation on the ballot of a forward slash mark (/), crossing the light backward slash mark described by the majority and forming a completed (X). It is this colorless
forward slash mark that caused the Board to make its finding of fact that the mark constituted an erasure. ¶35 In fairness to the majority, it is unclear whether the
indentation on the ballot constituting the colorless (or nearly colorless) forward slash mark 1 occurred because of a
What is clear, however, is that the Board is the trier of fact, and that pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 9.01(8), the court may not substitute its own view of the facts for that of the Board of Canvassers. DeBroux v. Bd. of Canvassers for the City of
Appleton, 206 Wis. 2d 321, 331, 557 N.W.2d 423 (Ct. App. 1996). ¶36 Wisconsin Stat. § 9.01(8), which details the scope of
appellate review, provides in relevant part that: [T]he court may not substitute its judgment for that of the board of canvassers or the chairperson or designee as to the weight of the evidence on any disputed finding of fact. The court shall set aside the determination if it finds that the determination depends on any finding of fact that is not supported by substantial evidence. ¶37 Here, the Board of Canvassers made a factual finding. to the ballot in question, the recount minutes
state the following:
"one ballot looks erased--3 canvassers
cannot determine with reasonable certainty what was intended. Ballot set aside. (#0002) . . . ." ¶38 In framing the issue in this case, the majority
opinion ignores this factual finding. dealing only with an interpretation
It portrays the case as of law, the statutory
interpretation of Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(c).
Majority op., ¶15.
In doing so, it contravenes the explicit language of Wis. Stat. § 9.01(8), which mandates that "[t]he court shall separately treat disputed issues of procedure, interpretations of law and findings of fact." ¶39 After reviewing the ballot, I would conclude that the I have
Board's finding is supported by substantial evidence. 2
attached to this opinion an exhibit from the petitioner's brief, which is a dark photocopy of the disputed ballot. It reveals an
"X" like figure, with the upper right side of the "X" missing. The original mark cannot be seen in the majority's photocopy of the ballot. It can be seen in part, however, in the darker
photocopy submitted by the petitioner. ¶40 very The fact that the backward slash portion of the "X" is and the forward slash indentation to I support would is partially factual to the
provides of an
Board's factual finding. ¶41 Recognizing that the mark is an erasure, the next step The only statute that
is to determine which statute governs.
specifically addresses erasures in the context of elections is Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm).16 Admittedly, it is unclear from the
language of the statute whether it is even applicable to the present case. Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm) speaks to ballots
involving one or more different candidates for the same office, not one-issue referendums. ¶42 spoken on If the statute does not apply, the legislature has not the issue and we must look to the principle of
inclusion (the legislative preference for counting ballots) for
Wisconsin Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm) provides:
Any apparent erasure of a mark next to the name of a candidate may not be counted as a vote for that candidate if the elector makes another mark next to the name of one or more different candidates for the same office and counting of the mark would result in an excess number of votes cast for the office. 3
Assuming that Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm) does apply,
however, the statute narrowly circumscribes when erasures are not to be counted. ¶43 Two conditions must be met before the vote is
disqualified: (1) "the elector makes another mark next to the name of one or more candidates for the same office," and (2) "counting of the mark would result in an excess number of votes cast for the office." Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2)(cm). Here, neither There is no
of those conditions precedent to disqualification is met. are no other marks on the ballot. Further, there
indication in the record that counting the vote would result in an excess number of votes cast. Because the conditions
precedent for disqualifying a vote as an erasure are not met, I again return to the principle of inclusion. ¶44 the Wisconsin's of general principle the vote in of inclusion case. supports As the
majority correctly recognizes, this principle is supported by our precedent, "Wisconsin courts have consistently noted that they do not want to deprive voters of the chance to have their votes counted." Majority op., ¶¶19-25 (citing e.g., State ex.
rel. Wood v. Baker, 38 Wis. 71 (1875), Ollmann v. Kowalewski, 238 Wis. 574, 300 N.W. 183 (1941), Hackbarth v. Erickson, 147 Wis. 2d 467, 433 N.W.2d 266 (Ct. App. 1988)). ¶45 In sum, I believe that the Board's finding of an
erasure should have been reviewed as a question of fact and not law. I would defer to that finding because an examination of
the ballot reveals that it is supported by substantial evidence. 4
principle of inclusion controls, I would count the vote.