Wisconsin elections commission in GOP crosshairs

·2-min read

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — All four of the leading Republican candidates for Wisconsin governor want to either abolish or dramatically overhaul the GOP-created bipartisan commission that oversees elections in the state, moves that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers opposes.

Tim Michels, a construction company co-owner and the most recent Republican to get into the race, released his proposed overhaul of the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Thursday. The three other top Republicans — former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefish, businessman Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun — all favor abolishing the commission.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will face Evers.

The commission has been in the crosshairs for many Republicans ever since President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by nearly 21,000 votes. Critics have faulted how the commission administered the election, while multiple lawsuits, reviews and recounts have upheld Biden's win and not found evidence of widespread fraud.

Michael Gableman, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to review the 2020 election, also recommended eliminating the commission. Vos does not support that recommendation.

The Republican-controlled Legislature created the commission in 2016. It replaced the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which was comprised of retired judges.

Michels' plan calls for terminating the three Republican and three Democratic members of the commission, repealing all of its guidance issued to local election clerks, terminating all senior staff and banning the use of unstaffed absentee ballot boxes.

Michels is also calling for a twice-annual purge of dead and inactive voters from the voting rolls. That is less than what the commission does now. It currently performs a daily check to deactivate voters who are dead or have become ineligible and checks four times a year for people who have moved.

“My plan is a fresh start, and allows us to bring in or bring back people who are ready to get to work to fix our elections, not make the problem worse,” Michels said in a statement.

Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chair of the elections commission, tweeted that Michels’ plan was “craziness.”

“It demonstrates a total lack of understanding how elections work,” Jacobs said. “There would be no guidance for elections at all? And no staff? Just an empty office? Who will administer registrations?”

Kleefisch, who polls have shown is the frontrunner, said Michels' plan doesn't go far enough.

“Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the Wisconsin Elections Commission cannot be reformed,” Kleefisch said. “It must be abolished.”

Both Nicholson and Ramthun support eliminating the commission and moving election duties to the secretary of state's office.

Evers voiced his opposition to Michels' plan in a tweet Thursday.

“All eligible voters should be able to vote,” Evers tweeted. “I will continue to veto any radical legislation that makes it harder to access the ballot box.”

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