It’s election season, and we should not be surprised that politicians and political groups moan about the state’s election watchdog. But few are as explicit as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who says the Government Accountability Board should be overhauled and its director ousted. Voters should know where the candidates for governor stand on this issue. There are plenty of ways to improve Wisconsin’s election system, but undermining an independent, nonpartisan overseer is not one of them. GAB staff has been called irresponsible — and unaccountable. But the GAB is working as intended by the Legislature that created it with near-unanimous support in 2007. Many of the same legislators are now beating up on their own creation because it has become inconvenient. While the GAB is insulated from partisan politics and has more power than the State Elections Board it replaced, it is not completely removed from political control. The Legislature controls its budget. The board itself is appointed by the governor, with five of the six members selected by Gov. Scott Walker. If the board thought that the GAB director was incompetent or biased, a simple majority vote could dismiss him. In contrast, removing the director simply because a prominent politician voices displeasure removes any semblance of independence from the position. A quick refresher about the GAB might help clarify things. Although anger is directed at the director, it is the board that makes decisions. Board members are former judges unaffiliated with a political party. A panel of appeals court judges creates a pool of candidates. The governor then nominates individuals from this pool, who then must get two-thirds support from the state Senate. The process guarantees that board members are approved on a bipartisan basis. It’s also helpful to consider some of the complaints launched against the GAB. They reveal a misunderstanding of how the agency is supposed to function.
First the Republicans. GOP leaders groused in 2012 about how recall signatures were validated and by the GAB decision to allow electronic documents to be used as proof of residence. They have been especially upset about the GAB’s investigation in the second John Doe investigation. Most recently, two legislative leaders complained that a ballot redesign favored Democrats.
These gripes made news partly because Republicans are in power and because legal wrangling over John Doe continues. But Democrats have had their share of complaints, too.
In 2011, the GAB sided with three Republican state senators who were accused by a liberal group of ethics violations. In 2012, liberals railed against the GAB for not removing “fake” Democrats in recall primary elections. More recently, they criticized the GAB for moving to implement the contested voter ID law before the U.S. Supreme Court blocked it.
The fact that the GAB does not bow to the wishes of either party is not a problem to fix. It demonstrates that the agency serves as an independent steward of our elections.
Full Article: Keep hands off the GAB.