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MADISON  — A conservative government reform group is calling on the troubled Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to be abolished “and its authority reassigned to an elected official who is directly accountable to voters.”

Said elected official would be Wisconsin’s Secretary of State.

In a new policy paper the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) lays out the myriad problems WEC has had complying with election laws and its failure to act as a truly nonpartisan regulator.

“This has left many to wonder whether it can manage our elections with the integrity necessary to satisfy the legitimate expectations of our fellow Wisconsinites,” IRG states in the policy reform report. “In 33 of our sister states, citizens who have such concerns can hold top elections officials accountable by voting them out of office. Here in Wisconsin, however, our top elections officials (the unelected, partisan members of the WEC) are insulated from direct, democratic accountability.”

And the six-member Elections Commission, represented by three Republican-appointed board members and three picked by Democrats, has been routinely criticized by conservatives for its left-leaning — and constitutionally questionable — interpretations of Wisconsin election law.

WEC was created after the 2015 devise of the corrupt Government Accountability Board (GAB), which helped lead Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe II investigations into dozens of conservative groups. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the campaign finance probe to be a “perfect storm of wrongs,” politically motivated and led by left-leaning GAB staff with an ax to grind against its target: then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Some of of the same GAB staff members remained with WEC.

IRG’s policy report notes the most “egregious examples of partisanship” involved WEC’s refusal to allow the Green Party’s presidential ticket access to the ballot for the November 2020 election. Critics say WEC’s decision may have cost President Donald Trump battleground Wisconsin, a state he lost by a slim 20,000-plus votes.

“Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court inexcusably denied the request to address this matter, the staff’s unlawful behavior took withering criticism from the constitutionalist jurists on the bench,” the IRG report states. In fact, Justice Rebecca  Bradley noted commission’s staff “irreparably harm[ed] the citizens of Wisconsin, along with the integrity of Wisconsin’s entire election process.” Justice Annette Ziegler, also writing in the minority opinion, asserted the staff “violat[ed] the sacred system of democracy that is the bedrock of the United States of America.”

IRG also notes the willingness of Elections Commission staff, particularly WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe, to help left-wing voting activists who, emails show, infiltrated the election administration in Wisconsin’s five largest and Democrat-heavy cities. The Chicago-based Center for Tech & Civic Life dumped nearly $9 million on the so-called “WI-5,” which used much of the funding for illegal get-out-the-vote efforts targeting traditionally Democratic voters. Emails show Wolfe was more than happy to connect a long-time Democratic Party operative in the CTCL network to the local elections officials.

It is impossible to fully take politics out of the regulation of elections and political speech, election watchers say. IRG asserts that government authority is “exercised most responsibly … when those who exercise it are subject to electoral accountability.”

That’s why the organization recommends the Legislature ditch the commission and transfer its responsibilities to the elected Secretary of State. It notes 33 states directly elect their head elections officials, and 25 of those use the office of Secretary of State to oversee state election law.

That may be an alarming concept for those considering Wisconsin elections run by highly partisan Democrat Secretary of State Doug LaFollette. IRG acknowledges as much, but notes partisanship already is baked into the system, without accountability.

“At least in a Secretary of State model, the official must shoulder the consequences of allowing partisanship to sway the manner in which they perform their duties,” the report states.

Chris Reader, IRG executive vice president, said it’s time to restore confidence in Wisconsin’s elections.

“When unelected bureaucrats oversee Wisconsin’s elections it can lead to the erosion of faith and confidence in our electoral system. Thirty-three other states have elected officials overseeing the election process, providing a good measure of accountability by empowering people across ideological spectrums to provide a check on who manages elections. This is a good government measure that will benefit all Wisconsinites.”

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