A purge of voters from Wisconsin voting rolls caused problems at the polls for some during this week’s primary. Some voters’ information was removed, even though they hadn’t moved and it was current. But voters who were not on the poll list could re-register on the spot and still vote. State elections officials say there is no evidence that anyone was prevented from voting. But the Wisconsin State Journal reports the issue could resurface in future elections that draw bigger turnout. Tuesday’s election, which included a Wisconsin Supreme Court primary, drew about 12 percent turnout. In a statement, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said it is investigating “isolated” reports that some voters had to re-register at the polls before they could vote.
Articles about voting issues in Wisconsin.
State Elections commissioners Wednesday edged closer to a showdown with Republican state senators over whether Elections Administrator Michael Haas should continue to lead the agency. Elections commissioners voted 4-2 Wednesday not to take immediate action on the issue and revisit it at a March 2 meeting. As was the case last week, Republican commissioner Beverly Gill voted with the three Democratic commissioners. Commissioners voted last week to retain Haas, who has led the commission’s staff since the agency’s 2016 inception, until at least April 30. That came in spite of a state Senate vote earlier in January to oust Haas and the state Ethics Administrator, Brian Bell.
Can the public trust the political process if politicians themselves don’t trust ethics and election regulators? That fundamental question has become pertinent in Wisconsin. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate voted, in effect, to fire Michael Haas and Brian Bell, respectively the administrators of the state election and ethics commissions. It was a strict party-line vote, with the Republican majority concluding that the individuals running the commissions had been tainted by partisanship and bad practices. “You need the ethics and election commissions to be trusted by all sides that have to deal with it,” says Mike Mikalson, chief of staff for GOP Sen. Stephen Nass. But Democrats complained that the move amounted to vendetta politics. Wisconsin Republicans have repeatedly attacked ethics and election officials whose actions they disliked.
A divided Wisconsin Elections Commission voted Wednesday to retain its embattled leader through early spring, thumbing its nose at state Senate Republicans who a day earlier refused to confirm him. One Republican commissioner joined with three Democratic commissioners to retain Michael Haas as interim administrator through April 30. The 4-2 vote sets up a likely legal fight over whether Haas legally holds the position and whether any decisions he makes are legitimate. “You are creating chaos,” said Dean Knudson, one of the two Republican commissioners who voted against retaining Haas. “What is best for the state is not to reappoint Michael Haas.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and other Republicans have said they can’t trust either of them because both previously worked for the state Government Accountability Board. The now-defunct agency investigated whether Gov. Scott Walker and others in the GOP violated state campaign laws.
Republican state senators Tuesday denied the confirmations of the directors of Wisconsin’s ethics and elections commissions — and the leader of the state Senate said he hoped to remove two civil servants at those agencies next. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Republicans had lost faith in the Ethics Commission and Elections Commission because they continue to employ people who worked for the now-disbanded Government Accountability Board. The accountability board participated in a sweeping investigation of Republicans that was shut down in 2015 after the state Supreme Court concluded nothing illegal occurred. “I wish they’d all resign,” Fitzgerald told reporters of former accountability board employees.
As Republican state senators prepare to oust the state’s ethics and elections chiefs, GOP Gov. Scott Walker won’t say if he agrees the pair should go. Three times on Friday, Walker sidestepped questions about whether he thought the Senate should deny the confirmations of ethics director Brian Bell and elections director Michael Haas. “I’ll leave that up to them and focus on our ambitious agenda,” Walker told reporters.
The embattled leaders of the Wisconsin agencies that run elections and enforce ethics laws are engaging in a public relations campaign to save their jobs, with a torrent of tweets, media interviews and personal letters to lawmakers offering examples of their nonpartisan credentials. The push comes before an expected state Senate vote Tuesday to reject the confirmations of Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission leader Brian Bell. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says Republicans have lost confidence in their ability to act fairly because they both worked for the now-disbanded Government Accountability Board.
Brian Bell removed roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the efforts now to force him out of his job as the head of the state Ethics Commission are mild by comparison. “No one’s — at least not yet — trying to shoot at me or blow me up,” Bell said in a recent interview down the street from the Capitol. But the risks for Bell — as well as Michael Haas, the director of the state Elections Commission — are real. Republicans who control the state Senate say they plan to vote Jan. 23 to deny their confirmations as a way to push them out of their jobs.
Wisconsin: Attorney General will take ‘a more expansive look’ at old Government Accountability Board | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
State Attorney General Brad Schimel said he will be taking “a more expansive look into whether there were other illegal activities going on” at the now-defunct Government Accountability Board. Schimel made his comments about the old GAB during a television interview that aired Sunday on “Upfront With Mike Gousha.” Last week, Republican state Senate leaders authorized Schimel to look into activities of the shuttered agency, including wide-ranging probes it conducted with prosecutors of Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans. The state Supreme Court shut down the investigation in 2015, finding nothing illegal had occurred.
Wisconsin voters don’t have a good handle on what types of identification they can use to cast a ballot, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor on Tuesday told the state Elections Commission. That’s one takeaway professor Ken Mayer reached after releasing a survey in September about how the state’s voter ID law affected turnout in last year’s presidential election in Milwaukee and Dane counties. “We found substantial evidence that most voters don’t have good information, accurate information, about the voter ID requirement,” Mayer told the Elections Commission. His study estimated 16,800 voters in those two counties did not vote because of the voter ID law. The $55,000 study — paid for by property-tax payers in Dane County — covered the state’s Democratic strongholds, but not other parts of the state.