RACINE — The first court hearing in the appeal of the Racine Unified School District referendum recount was held Thursday morning, as both sides met to determine the timeline of events.
The suit pits petitioners James Sewell, Dennis Montey and George Meyers from the organization Honest, Open and Transparent Government and the regional Libertarian Party, against the Racine Unified School District Board of Canvassers, YES for Our Children and the Racine Unified School District.
“The court’s function on this appeal is to follow the law and develop facts if we need facts developed, depending on various issues, and make a decision,” said Racine Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek, who is presiding over the case. “Of course, one side in this particular case will be unhappy with the decision, but that doesn’t enter into the court’s decision.”
Piontek said the first step would be to collect all of the ballots. According to RUSD attorney Matt O’Neil, the ballots have been returned to their respective municipalities after the recount. Piontek asked that an order be drafted and served on each municipalities to return those ballots, which would then be moved to the Racine County Clerk’s office.
In the meantime, the petitioner’s attorneys must file a complaint alleging the offenses they believe were committed during the recount by May 28.
In the initial appeal filed May 1, petitioners argued that the total number of votes cast in the election was “significantly higher” than votes cast in the referendum, as well as other concerns, including not being permitted to examine ballots cast without referendum votes, disagreements about rejected ballots and drawdowns and obscured U.S. Postal Services postmarks.
Piontek warned that he wanted specific detail in the complaint. “I want to know exactly what the issue is because there are some limitations,” Piontek said.
According to Wisconsin statutes, the court may not receive evidence that was not received by the Board of Canvassers during their recount during these proceedings. The exceptions are evidence that was not available during the recount or newly discovered evidence.
The respondents must respond to the complaint by June 8, and petitioners may file their response to the respondents by June 15.
Piontek, who will make the final decision in the case, said that he wanted the case to be completed by the end of June. A status conference has been scheduled for June 22.
The initial election results, announced April 13, showed the referendum passing by five votes. The six-day recount, triggered by citizen petitions, concluded April 24, with unofficial results showing that the referendum passed by four votes, but official results from the Board of Canvassers the next day increased that margin back to five votes.
The referendum allows the district to collect $1 billion in property taxes beyond its state-imposed revenue limit over the next 30 years.
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