Senate Bill 250 is making some headlines in Wisconsin with some very enthusiastic supporters, but a significant level of caution is warranted for this piece of legislation.
SB 250 (and its Assembly companion AB 244) seeks to radically alter the election process for members of Congress and U.S. Senators in Wisconsin. It would ultimately make it more difficult for conservative candidates to win elections in our state. Additionally, it would shift the focus during elections from issues to money and name recognition, which often results in less qualified candidates taking office. A public hearing for the bill was held just before Christmas, but the Senate Committee on Elections has not yet voted on the bill. The Assembly hasn’t taken any action to date on the proposal.
This bill removes the partisan primaries for Congress and the U.S. Senate and replaces them with an open primary. Currently in Wisconsin, we have partisan primaries, meaning each party gets a chance to select one candidate for the general election. In this new proposed system, however, every candidate running for office would be in the same pool, and the top five vote earners would move on to the general election. That means that multiple Republicans and Democrats could, and certainly would, land on the final ballot in November.
The bill also implements something called “Final Five voting” in the general election. On election day, under this bill, voters would be asked to rank their choices for Congress and U.S. Senate from their first choice to their fifth (but ranking all five is not required). After the votes are counted, if no candidate has over 50% of the vote, whoever has the fewest votes would be removed. Votes that had gone to the eliminated candidate would then go to a given voter’s second choice candidate. If there is still no candidate with more than 50% of the vote, the process is repeated until there is.
The Final Five voting system isn’t necessarily complicated, but it can be confusing because it’s so different from the way we have always conducted elections in Wisconsin. To make matters worse, if passed, this bill would apply to this year’s elections. It’s a tall order to get the whole state on the same page that quickly. In addition, the cost of restructuring the voting system is also of major concern. Maine uses a similar system for a few elected offices, and their taxpayers have to pay nearly another half a million dollars per election to make this system work. Wisconsin has four times the population of Maine; so it stands to reason that our cost would be much higher than Maine’s.
Additionally, this type of election system is ripe for manipulation and election tampering.
Because of the complexity of this system, it would likely take weeks to determine who actually won the election. Beyond that, we’ve already seen how hard it is to keep the ballot safe, secure and properly counted for one night. Imagine the antics that dishonest vote counters could pull if we allow the counting to extend over a period of weeks.
Right now is a terrible time to further erode our faith in our electoral system. Wisconsin Family Action firmly opposes Senate Bill 250/Assembly Bill 244.