Republicans slam WEC administrator over audit findings, group of election officials defend agency

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republican lawmakers are demanding the state elections commission start making changes at their agency over decisions they made during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could be awhile before that happens.

A Legislative audit report that reviewed the 2020 election states the Wisconsin Elections Commission must adopt rules in order to continue policies regarding missing information on absentee envelopes and ballot drop boxes.

But that might be difficult because of the divide on the commission, which consists of three Democrats and three Republicans. In order to enact an administrative rule, the commission needs four votes. If the vote falls along party lines, no action is taken by the agency. 

Meagan Wolfe, WEC's administrator, testified to lawmakers on the Joint Audit Committee that the commission is planning to discuss the audit's recommendations during a Dec. 1 meeting.

Republican Rep. John Macco slammed Wolfe for the commission not meeting earlier to review the audit, a decision Wolfe has no control over.

The agency's chairwoman, Ann Jacobs, is the only one who can schedule a meeting. Last week, Jacobs sent a letter to the co-chairs on the committee saying commissioners can't attend to discuss the audit because they wanted to wait until they meet next month. 

"I find it absolutely repugnant that no one could show up," said Macco. "I just find this whole thing a joke today, and you have done nothing to lay my fears and concerns."

Wolfe also expressed frustration that auditors did not allow the agency or its staff to review the audit before it was released, an unusual move since the audit bureau typically allows time for individuals to respond.

During testimony, Wolfe said she wants auditors to fix errors in their report since they didn't allow her to submit feedback before it was published.

"The audit as publish today has factual errors because we were not afforded the opponent to review or respond to the report before it was issued," Wolfe said.

A section in the report Wolfe took aim at was about the agency's ability to obtain voting records through the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The nonprofit flags voters who may have moved, and Wolfe said the report claims the state missed opportunities to gather that data.

"That is just factually inaccurate and that's something that needs to be corrected, because that's being perpetuated by others that are intending to undermine the credibility of our democracy," said Wolfe.

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) took aim at Wolfe's comments that the report was flawed.

"I don't see where there are major problems with this audit," Born said.

Wolfe said, "We should all want this to be an accurate record of the election, and I guess I'm taken aback that folks are so appalled that I would dare question that."

Support for Wolfe

On Monday, a bipartisan group of over 50 election officials sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in support of Wolfe, after some Republicans have asked her to resign over the agency's decisions during the pandemic.

The letter was from the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.

"It seems that some, unhappy with an election that has been upheld and verified by members of both parties, and judges appointed by both parties, for over a year, now seek to tarnish her good name in an attempt to bully her into resigning," officials wrote in the letter.

Vos and other Republicans have asked Wolfe to step down after Racine County officials allege cases of voter fraud in a Mount Pleasant nursing home, and a nonpartisan audit recommended dozens of changes to improve how elections are run.

The audit also revealed there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, a claim former President Donald Trump continues to falsely state.

In the letter, officials slam Vos for wanting to eliminate WEC and have elected officials run it instead after Republicans created the commission in 2016.

It also notes that it was Republicans who abolished the Government Accountability Board, the group in charge of elections before it was eliminated, after Republicans believed they were unfairly treating former Governor Scott Walker.

"As you know, you championed the creation of the WEC, replacing the Government Accountability Board, and you and your fellow legislators dictated the exact structure and terms of the agency. And it has performed admirably," the letter states.

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