RACINE — A decision is expected in the Racine Unified School District referendum recount appeal by either this Friday or the following Monday.
In a June 22 order, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek asked that all parties file a two-page document outlining their position regarding the appeal by June 26. Both parties continued to file after the deadline. One of Piontek’s clerks said that could affect when Piontek reaches a decision.
A fourth appellant?
The appeal challenges a recount of votes cast in a Racine Unified School District referendum asking voters for permission to collect more than $1 billion beyond its revenue limit over the next 30 years.
The original vote took place April 7, with a six-day recount that concluded April 24.
The appeal was filed on May 1 by James Sewell, Dennis Montey and George Meyers from the organization Honest, Open and Transparent Government as well as the regional Libertarian Party.
Among the briefs filed on June 26, one was on behalf of James C. McClain, a Racine resident who voted in the referendum via absentee ballot. He asked for Piontek to recuse himself from the case.
McClain claimed that statements made by Piontek during a status conference indicated “judicial bias” and accused him of being inadequately prepared. McClain also pointed to Piontek’s previous involvement with the school district, as a school board member and a volunteer with the Horlick High School Vocal Music Parents Association, as evidence that he should recuse himself from the case.
Attorneys for one of the defendants responded that McClain’s petition was not timely and should have been filed within five days of the Board of Canvassers certifying the the recount results and that the information he provided regarding Piontek’s history, which was collected from Ballotpedia.org, is not new information.
Defendants in the case are the school district, the Racine Unified Board of Canvassers and YES for Our Children, a referendum committee.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Piontek had not released a decision regarding McClain’s petition.
Burden of proof
The current petitioners filed a demand to examine and recount the ballots, particularly the wards they said had counts different from those they calculated based on the original results
The initial results, announced April 13, showed the referendum passing by five votes, 16,748 in favor and 16,743 opposed. The recount results show that the referendum passed with 16,715 votes in support of the measure and 16,710 votes in opposition.
“Petitioners have the right to examine the ballots containing votes in the school referendum,” their brief said. “Petitioners also have the right to have those votes recounted in their presence in open court.”’
Respondents again asserted that the petitioners have not met the burden of proof needed for their appeal. One of the respondents mentioned an affidavit filed by Alderman Carrie Glenn of the 10th District that said the check-in table during the recount at some points was unmanned.
“(B)ut does not specifically identify anything improper,” the brief said. “Of course, there was not, and the Appellants submission conveniently fails to acknowledge that the ballots were in a room guarded by armed security when they were not being counted.”
A response from the RUSD Board of Canvassers stated that the appellants had made false claims about the frequency of challenged ballots.
“Appellant George Meyers’ second affidavit states he has charts showing a ‘tremendous discrepancy’ in that there were more challenges to an rejections of absentee ballot envelopes in the wards out of the City of Racine,” the brief read. “Mr. Meyers does not attach any charts. The chart attached to (Board of Canvassers) member Melissa Abel’s affidavit however shows Mr. Meyers has it exactly backwards — there were far more rejections of and review of absentee ballot envelopes in the City of Racine than the other municipalities.”
The respondents also argued that the appellants’ claims that they were unable to properly observe the recount was unfounded.
“They also once again fail to grapple with the fact that the process was wide open – to observers, the media and anyone with access to Facebook,” the brief stated. “In other words, these new assertions fail to raise a credible claim that the ballots were not secure during the recount. As has been Appellants’ problem from the start, vague allusions and implications fall short of the specificity require by statute.”