The caucus system is coming to an end in the Town of Oregon.
At the town’s annual meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1, citizens unanimously passed two initiatives that will change how the municipality facilitates its local elections, Town Chair Wayne Ace confirmed with the Observer.
In place of the caucus system, individuals interested in serving on the Town Board will need to file nomination papers.
The second initiative requires the Town of Oregon board to create a public process for filling board vacancies. Starting with the April 2021 election, candidates for town offices will need to get at least 20 signatures to be on the ballot. Nomination papers for the April 2021 can start to be circulated on Dec. 1, 2020.
“I felt this was coming,” Ace said. “If this is what residents want, this is fine with me. We are changing with the times.”
Under the caucus system, a town-wide meeting was convened on a date in January every year, and people who did not intend to run could be nominated, resident Tim Yanacheck, present at the annual meeting, told the Observer. Nomination papers are used with most municipalities in Wisconsin, requiring candidates to gather a minimum number of signatures to get their names on the ballot for the next election.
Ace immediately began the process of selecting a committee of citizens to make proposals for a public procedure at the meeting. Yanacheck noted the resolution requires the new procedure to be put in place no later than the board’s monthly meeting in March, 2021.
Under Chapter 60 of state statutes, the annual meeting is when residents can make legislative decisions directly, rather than allowing their elected representatives to act on their behalf.
With Phil Van Kampen vacating his Town of Oregon seat over the summer upon moving to the Village of Oregon, Yanacheck said the seat was filled by a vote of the remaining four supervisors at the August board meeting with little to no public input.
So in response, Yanacheck said he voted in favor of the first initiative and proposed the second.
Other residents spoke in favor of the changes at the annual meeting, Yanacheck said, and pointed out that COVID-19 highlighted the need for a change. Not all qualified town residents can or may want to attend a caucus in person, he said, as they fear exposure to the illness.
“Circulating of nomination papers, on the other hand, can be done over time, and the effort can also demonstrate a candidate’s serious level of commitment to serve in public office,” he said. “Supporters stated their belief that the practice of using nomination papers will lead to wider citizen involvement in the election process.”