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WEC sued for dereliction of duty

By M.D. Kittle

Wisconsin Spotlight | Nov. 21, 2022

MADISON — A lawsuit filed last week by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty alleges the members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission have been derelict in their duties to decide complaints against local election officials.

The lawsuit, filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court on behalf of registered voter Robert Pellegrini of Hartland, charges that the six-member commission has “delegated their authority to WEC’s Administrator, or in some cases to its Chairperson, who makes those decisions instead of the WEC Commissioners.”

The six commissioners — three Democrats, three Republicans — are statutorily responsible for hearing and resolving complaints against local election officials and they cannot abdicate that duty by delegating it to anyone else, the suit asserts.

WILL urges the court to order that WEC’s abdication of its statutory duties is invalid. The suit seeks an injunction requiring WEC to decide future complaints by the WEC Commissioners voting on the decision before it is issued.

“It’s absolutely absurd that the Wisconsin Elections Commission repeatedly refuses to take accountability,” said Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel for the Milwaukee-based public interest law firm.

In June 2021, WILL submitted a complaint to WEC on behalf of Pellegrini. WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe dismissed the complaint, with no indication that commission members voted on or affirmatively approved of the decision. WILL discovered that Wolfe had done so under a broad policy adopted by the commissioners in delegating their authority to review and resolve all such election complaints.

State law requires WEC to decide complaints, the lawsuit notes. Nowhere do the statutes authorize the commission to give its quasi-judicial role to the administrator, WEC staff, or to anyone else.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has recognized that when the Legislature assigns an important duty to a multi-member commission like WEC, that body cannot re-delegate its duty to an employee or one of its members, but must act as a commission,” the lawsuit states.

Pellegrini’s original complaint claimed the Village of Hartland’s clerk allowed voters to place their absentee ballots in outdoor, unstaffed drop boxes. That practice since has been found unlawful, but Wolfe, as she has so often done, pushed aside state law in advancing WEC staff’s interpretation of statute.

“I previously filed a complaint with WEC against my local village clerk. The WEC Administrator dismissed my complaint without input from the Commissioners themselves. The decision by the Administrator was reversed in Court, but I don’t think I would have had to go to court if the Commissioners had reviewed and decided my complaint themselves,” Pellegrini said

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