In 2016, lawmakers in the state legislature eliminated the Government Accountability Board, or GAB. The movement to do so, led mostly by conservatives, cited the body’s involvement in a secret probe into former Governor Scott Walker.
The GAB was replaced by two bodies — one regulating government ethics, and the other regulating elections. But now, conservative voices are calling for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to be overhauled… again.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission is a six-person, bipartisan group that issues election guidance to clerks and interprets the state’s election laws. Three of its members are appointed by Democrats and three are appointed by Republicans.
Now, GOP legislative officials are again dissatisfied with the body that oversees elections in Wisconsin. They’re calling for the resignation of Wisconsin’s chief election official, Meagan Wolfe. And some are calling for the commissioners of the Wisconsin Elections Commission to resign — even the ones Republicans themselves appointed.
Speaking to reporters today, Wolfe – who is not a voting member of the commission – pushed back against calls for her resignation.
“I think this is politics, and it’s just something I’m not willing to engage in,” she said.
Broadly, the Legislative Audit Bureau’s report found that last year’s election was safe and secure. But, it did make thirty recommendations for the Elections Commission going forward — most of which involve streamlining the state’s election rules and operations.
Wolfe says that the Commission will be considering those recommendations at a meeting next month.
“In anticipation of that December first meeting, I’ve been directed to start preparing three things for the commission,” she said today. “The first is to put together a list of items we’re able to address right away. Secondly, they’ve asked me to provide a list of corrections that need to be made to the LAB report. And third, the commission will be asked to prioritize and provide guidance on longer-term items like administrative rules.”
Notably, the Audit Bureau’s report found that a decision last year by the Elections Commission to bar voting deputies from nursing homes went against state statute.
In a normal year, the state would send teams of Special Voting Deputies to nursing homes to help residents cast their ballots. Last spring, amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission voted to bar deputies from entering nursing homes, telling residents to instead mail their ballots in.
Which brings us to the second investigation at hand — which was conducted by Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling. Schmaling, a Trump supporter, argues that the Commission broke the law last year when it issued the nursing home rule.
Schmaling outlined his case in a press conference last Thursday.
“Some of my friends here in the media have headlined this as some kind of political event,” he said. “I’m here today to tell you that is not true. The purpose of this presentation today is not political, it’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about integrity and accountability in the election process.”
In brief, Schmaling’s office alleges that seven residents with cognitive disabilities at the Ridgewood Care Facility in Mount Pleasant had their ballots filled in and submitted by nursing home employees. Investigators also allege one other resident at the facility possibly voted illegally during the November presidential election.
Folks with cognitive disabilities can vote, unless a court finds them incompetent.
Schmaling’s office hasn’t filed any charges in the case. They’ve asked the state’s Department of Justice to investigate, which has so far refused, asking for more facts related to the case.
Wolfe was appointed to her role in 2018. When she was re-appointed in 2019, she received unanimous approval from Republicans in the legislature.
Wolfe’s current term lasts through 2023. When asked today whether or not she’d seek a another term, she said: “one day at a time.”
Photo by Jonah Chester for WORT-FM