Wisconsin Elections Commission requests $1.3M to meet growing demands, boost confidence in elections

NOW: Wisconsin Elections Commission requests $1.3M to meet growing demands, boost confidence in elections

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- To meet growing demands and boost confidence in elections, members on the state Elections Commission are asking lawmakers for more money in the next budget to revamp their agency, which has been the center of criticism by Republican lawmakers since the 2020 election.

The bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission is requesting $1.3 million to pay for more staff, increase awareness of how elections operate and respond more quickly to complaints.

On Wednesday, commissioners unanimously approved the plan which includes hiring 10 employees and creating an Elections Inspector General program.

The proposal is anticipated to be debated next year by lawmakers when budget negotiations begin.

WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe said the funding request would “ensure our staff can meet the rising public need for information which will build confidence in our election system.”

“We know it is a big ask and we don't take this as lightly, but we do believe the action is required and changes are needed to keep pace with the increasing expectations of Wisconsin citizens,” Wolfe said.

Republicans and Democrats on the commission agreed – a funding boost is needed to keep up with increased demand for public record requests, audits, and complaints, which have increased since WEC was created in 2016.

“Those requests take priority and we have to address those,” said Don Millis, the Republican chairman of WEC. “If we don’t address those concerns, if they are real or not, we lose confidence in elections.”

Since the agency opened, officials said the number of public record requests expanded from about two per month to 16 in 2020. Complaints filed have also increased from 15 per year in 2020 to more than 100, a number Wolfe anticipated the agency to reach by the end of the year.

WEC’s proposal could face challenges as it needs approval from the GOP Legislature and the next governor.

GOP governor candidate Tim Michels and a handful of Republican lawmakers want to eliminate the agency due to criticism over Donald Trump’s loss in 2020. Recounts, courts, and reviews of the 2020 presidential election have upheld Joe Biden’s narrow 21,000-vote victory over Trump.

Rep. Mark Born, the Republican co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, said WEC’s spending plan is in its beginning stages and declined to comment whether he supports it.

“(The proposal) will need to make it through several more steps before coming to the Joint Committee on Finance for consideration,” Born said in a statement. “JFC will, as usual, consider the executive budget and requests that are presented to the committee during the upcoming legislative budget season, which is in the first half of next year.”

Other GOP lawmakers have floated giving the secretary of state more control over elections. The Republican hopeful in the race, State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, has said she supports that idea, but recently refused to say how much authority she wants to give, according to a report by the Associated Press.

“The fact the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) is even considering spending more than a million dollars in taxpayer money to set up an agency within an agency to be a check on its own responsibilities is just another painful reminder of why WEC, as currently structured, does not work,” Loudenbeck said in a statement in response to WEC’s proposal. .

“If WEC is looking to restore confidence in our elections, which most certainly needs to be done, they should look outside their own agency for ideas. Most other states delegate election duties, ministerial or otherwise, to a constitutional officer, typically the elected secretary of state.”

Loudenbeck’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, is running to maintain the office’s limited responsibilities and opposes adding additional responsibilities such as overseeing elections.

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