MADISON — A plurality of Wisconsin voters has had enough of the controversial Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), according to a new poll commissioned by the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG).
The poll, conducted by Brice Kornegay and BK Strategies, shows 38 percent of respondents support a statewide elected official, such as the Secretary of State, overseeing elections, while 33 percent said they’d like the authority to remain with WEC. Another 28 percent said they did not know.
BK Strategies conducted the poll of 300 likely Wisconsin voters by phone on Dec. 7-8. The poll has a margin of error of 5.7 percent.
“Election oversight should be in the hands of an elected official, like the Secretary of State,” said CJ Szafir, president of the Institute for Reforming Government. “ This poll shows that Wisconsinites are ready for change.”
The conservative government reform group put out a position paper last summer calling on the troubled Wisconsin Elections Commission to be abolished “and its authority reassigned to an elected official who is directly accountable to voters.”
In the policy paper IRG lays out the myriad problems WEC has had complying with election laws and its failure to act as a truly nonpartisan regulator. The six-member commission has issued legally suspect guidance on everything from absentee ballot drop boxes to orders locking out special voting deputies at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“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 its 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.”
The report 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.
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 demise 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 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.”
IRG’s poll finds Democrats are even more supportive of turning election oversight over to an elected office. Forty-five percent of those who identified as Democrats support the idea, while 38 percent of Republicans do.
“It is time for Wisconsin to abolish the Wisconsin Elections Commission and remove the oversight of elections from the WEC that is often deadlocked when it comes to important decisions,” IRG’s Szafir said. “Abolishing the WEC would give power back to the people, allowing them to hold the elected official accountable at the ballot box. It also provides greater accountability and frees elections oversight from bureaucratic deadlock.”