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2 elections for same Wisconsin seat have election officials fearing voter confusion

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Wisconsin election officials voted Thursday to provide more details to voters than normal to avoid confusion about a ballot that will have both a special and regular election for a vacant congressional seat.

The rare anomaly for the 8th Congressional District is due to the timing of former U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher's surprise resignation. Under state law, if Gallagher had quit before April 9, a special election before November would have had to be called.

Gallagher quit on April 24, which required Gov. Tony Evers to call the special election on the same dates as the Aug. 13 primary and Nov. 5 general election.

That means that voters in the northeastern Wisconsin congressional district will be voting to elect someone in a special election to fill the remainder of the current term, which runs until Jan. 3, and then vote separately for someone to fill the regular two-year term starting in January.

"There is a source for confusion present here and it will be very difficult to avoid any voter confusion," said Wisconsin Elections Commission attorney Brandon Hunzicker at a meeting Thursday.

To help avoid confusion, the commission voted to have the ballot show the length of both the special election and the regular term. Voters in the congressional district will also be handed an explanation of why the same congressional seat is on the ballot twice.

The exact wording of both the ballot and the information sheet will be considered by the commission next month.

"If we're not clarifying that for the voter, we have done the voters a disservice," commissioner Ann Jacobs said.

Candidates for the office will also be required to circulate separate nomination papers for both the special and regular elections. Those nomination papers are due June 3.

State Sen. André Jacque, of De Pere, former state Sen. Roger Roth, of Appleton, and former gas station and convenience store owner Tony Wied, are all running as Republicans for the seat. Wied has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly is the only announced Democrat in the race.

Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District is solidly Republican, but Democrats have vowed to make it competitive.

Trump won the district by 16 percentage points in 2020, even though he lost the state by less than a point to President Joe Biden. Gallagher won reelection three times by no fewer than 25 points. The district includes the cities of Appleton and Green Bay, Door County and covers mostly rural areas north through Marinette.

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