Linda Terry probably won’t get her wish. The Raymond clerk has overseen Wisconsin elections for the past 20 years, first in Kenosha County and now in Racine County. She wants the Legislature to stop futzing with election laws. “I think the clerks know what they’re doing, it’s everybody else that doesn’t,” Terry said with a laugh. County and municipal clerks have taken a lot of heat the past couple years, as Wisconsin’s seemingly unending election cycles have highlighted the downside of the most decentralized election system in the country. Military ballots have gone out late. Lawsuits have been threatened and filed. Voter registration rolls haven’t been properly updated. Some of the problems have been attributed to the series of recalls, recounts, special and regular elections, turning part-time municipal clerk jobs into full-time gigs. The election schedule has returned to normal, and watchdogs have had time to assess how well or how poorly Wisconsin elections are run. So, what’s changing? Not much.
For starters, none of the clerks who have missed federal and state deadlines over the past few years are expected to face fines or other disciplinary action. “We don’t have any … disciplinary tool that we can use to fine either the clerk or the municipality,” said Mike Haas, head of the elections division for the state Government Accountability Board.
The GAB’s hands are somewhat tied: State law only allows GAB to file a civil lawsuit “seeking (a) Court order to require election officials to act, enforcing the laws regulating the conduct of elections or election campaigns, or ensuring their proper administration.”
Also, under the statute, “the willful neglect or refusal by an election official to perform any of the duties prescribed under (Chapters) 5 to 12 is a felony.” But Haas said the GAB hasn’t asked the Legislature to give the board additional disciplinary powers, either.