THE PROBLEM: The people of Wisconsin do not have a mechanism to hold state elections officials at the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) accountable when they abuse their power or fail to follow the law. The WEC has proved that it’s an out-of-control agency in need of democratic accountability.
POLICY SOLUTION: Direct electoral accountability. 33 states directly elect an officer to oversee their elections. Wisconsin should consider adopting a similar model by dissolving the Wisconsin Elections Commission and moving the oversight of elections into an elective office, like the under-utilized Secretary of State.
1. The citizens of 33 states reserve to themselves the right to directly elect their chief elections official. This gives them the ability to hold the elected chief elections official accountable at the ballot box. There is currently no similar opportunity for Wisconsinites to hold the WEC accountable.
2. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been trying to correct the failings of state elections oversight for many years. The legislature created WEC following accusations that its predecessor, the Government Accountability Board (GAB), systematically engaged in partisan decision-making (the GAB was governed by gubernatorially-appointed retired judges). The GAB was itself the product of dissatisfaction with the partisanship of its predecessor, the Elections Board (which comprised eight political appointees).
3. In the last few years, WEC has faced mounting criticism for how it has managed Wisconsin’s elections. Many see WEC’s decisions as regularly bending or ignoring the law in favor of partisan objectives. This has called into question the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections.
4. The integrity of our elections can be secured by making the top elections official democratically accountable to the people of Wisconsin. 33 states- including Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota, confer the responsibility for administering elections on an elected officer. Electing the top elections official would empower citizens from all across the ideological spectrum to provide a check on the health of Wisconsin’s electoral system and management of elections every four years.
5. Wisconsin’s Secretary of State, a constitutional officer, is elected every four years. Currently, the office is significantly under-utilized, so it would have more than enough capacity to administer Wisconsin’s election laws through a legislative act transferring the Commission’s responsibilities and FTEs to the Secretary of State.
For more information: Read the policy memo here.