Here's how a candidate can run for multiple offices in Milwaukee's primary election
Milwaukee’s primary election is two weeks away and when voters go to cast their ballot on Feb. 20, they might notice one candidate’s name show up multiple times.
Ieshuh Griffin is running for mayor of Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s District 3 Common Council Seat and Milwaukee County Executive. Which is perfectly legal, but there’s some nuance to how it could shake out based on the election results.
Bryna Godar, a staff attorney with the State Democracy Research Initiative at the University of Wisconsin Law School, helps explain how candidates can run for more than one seat in a local election.
Below is an excerpt of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
In the City of Milwaukee, what legally allows candidates to run for more than one office in the same election?
There is a Wisconsin statewide law that allows candidates to appear on the ballot for more than one office in the same election. But specifically, it's only for local, nonpartisan offices. So that includes offices like county executive, county supervisor, and all municipal offices. This includes mayor, alderperson and other municipal roles.
If a candidate who ran for more than one office in an election is ultimately elected for two or more offices — can that candidate choose to hold more than one office at the same time?
Sometimes, yes — which I think is surprising to a lot of people. It really depends on the offices, though. There's this background concept of compatibility of offices and if two offices are incompatible, you can't hold them at the same time.
Incompatibility generally exists where the duties of the two offices would be in conflict in some way, and there are different ways for this to happen. One [example] is if one office is supervising the other office, it would be contrary to public policy for you to hold both offices.
Or, in a lot of elected body situations, if you're on the common council, you have the power to set the salary or job duties for a lot of city offices. So generally, you're not allowed to hold a council seat, as well as a city seat, where you have the power over basically what you would be getting paid or what you would do because there would be concerns about a conflict of interest there.
Does it seem a little bit like checks and balances?
Yeah, there's a desire not to have people have the potential to abuse their position. Or there's also a large number of local government positions where your duties just might conflict with each other. So, you might be responsible to a certain district in your role as an alderperson, and you might be responsible to a different group or a different supervisor in a different role in the city or county.
To be more specific, can someone hold an office with the city and also hold another office with the county at the same time?
Yes. This is actually a state statute that likely allows a county supervisor also to be a member of the city's Common Council. So, you can be on the county board and city council.
Some Wisconsin attorneys general from the early 1900s have explicitly said that the County Board Supervisor and Alderman offices are not incompatible. So, those are compatible offices, and you can hold both of them.
What if you're elected to a higher position, for example, as a city mayor? At that point, can you hold any other office within the city or the county level?
If you're elected mayor, you cannot hold any other city office because it would be incompatible.
There is a case about somebody running both for mayor and for alderman, and they considered that those offices would be incompatible. In this case, they concluded that if an alderman was elected to both alderperson and mayor positions, they could choose between the two offices, but they couldn't hold both offices.
One piece to add is that there are exceptions laid out in the state statute of incompatibility. So there are a few exceptions, including volunteer firefighters and EMS practitioners — people whom you kind of want to have as a larger body of people who can serve in those roles.
So, there are some exceptions to this, but the overall idea is to have people not end up in situations where they have conflicting duties and conflicting interests and responsibilities.
Ieshuh Griffin’s statement, in part, about her decision to run in multiple races: "My official statement as it relates is as follows; I am for the people, of the people, by the people and about the people. I am acting in accordance with the law, my rights and those whom have nominated me as it relates."
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