Well, it turns out that the first full budget for the Elections Commission is running into some problems. The Elections Commission said they needed 22 positions in places ahead of 2018’s midterms and Governor’s election, and Governor Walker’s budget only allows for staffing and funding of 16 positions. Why did Walker cut 6 positions off of that request? Here’s what the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says.
The administration indicates the reason for providing 16.0 positions annually rather than 22.0 positions is that HAVA [Help America Vote Act]-funded positions have had a high vacancy rate in recent years and that the agency has been able to manage its workload using temporary staff through contractual services. At the time the budget bill was introduced (February 8, 2017), 8.0 of the 22.0 positions were vacant. The Governor's recommended budget provided authority for two of the eight vacancies…All of the agency's HAVA-funded positions were reauthorized in 2015-16 under 2015 Act 55. The first three positions listed in Table 1 had not been filled since the date of their reauthorization. Five of the eight positions, which had been vacant seven months or less, could be considered short-term vacancies. As noted in the table, one additional position was vacated in April, 2017, and three positions have been or will be filled in April or May. Therefore, accounting for the most recent vacancy and newly hired staff, six positions would remain vacant.There’s a problem with the Walker Administration’s argument that temporary staffing can handle the rest of the workload. There’s no money given to the Elections Commission to do that. These temporary contractors cost $53,800 before the 2016 elections, and usually involve answering voting-related questions and helping to do post-election audits. And if the Walker Administration wants to cut these 6 positions, you’d think the least they can do is pay for the part-time workers that are required to make up some of the difference.
But the Elections Commission is insisting they need full staffing, and have received the backing of several local officials in their argument, as local governments have to carry out increasingly complicated elections laws and haven’t had the money to back up those mandates.
10. In a February 28, 2017, communication to local election officials, the Commission's administrator expressed the agency's concern regarding the level of position authority recommended for the 2017-19 biennium. The following potential effects of reduced position authority were indicated: (a) delays and reduced capacity for reviewing nomination papers, assisting candidates and challengers, certifying candidates, and reviewing and approving ballot formats; (b) reduced capacity to implement legislative changes in a timely and consistent manner through statewide training and support for local election officials; (c) limited ability to maintain the state's voter registration system, including municipal boundary changes, list maintenance relating to identifying ineligible voters, and assistance to local election officials; and (d) an overall reduction in accuracy and efficiency in completing agency tasks that require a team-based approach such as testing new functions in the voter registration system, reviewing and certifying election results and other data from local election officials, testing and auditing voting equipment, and compiling election data into federal and state reports.But I don’t think having elections be screwed up is an item of major concern in the Governor’s office. After all, he has signed on to numerous election law changes that helped lead to the results in 2016 that favored Walker’s Republicans. Some of that information just came to light last week, as the Nation magazine printed the results of a survey from Dem SuperPAC Priorities USA.
11. In February and March, 2017, five local governments wrote to the Elections Commission to express support for providing the 6.0 positions that were not included in the recommended budget. The local officials provided several reasons in support of the agency's request. In the correspondence submitted to the Commission, local officials stated that they believe the Commission has been short-staffed in recent years, and that the agency's level of staffing has a "direct effect on all phases of elections" including training of 1,854 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks, answering questions and concerns, maintenance of current procedures and policies, legal advice, database development, statistical data collection, and research. Additionally, the local officials wrote that the work of the Commission assists clerks and other elections staff in complying with the latest legal requirements and administering elections with accuracy and integrity. They observed that elections-related duties for clerks and other staff at the local level have also increased significantly over time, such that in some cases elections work now requires more than twice as many hours and staff, in comparison to the local workload 15 years ago. Elections officials are concerned that the recommended level of position authority would result in reduced services to locals that could lead to: compliance issues if clerks misinterpret law changes; errors in various elections processes; slower response times; and lower overall quality of service.
While states with no change to voter identification laws witnessed an average increased turnout of +1.3% from 2012 to 2016, Wisconsin’s turnout (where voter ID laws changed to strict) dropped by -3.3%. If turnout had instead increased by the national no-change average, we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016….The article also includes this chart, which shows only 2 of Wisconsin's 72 counties had an increase in turnout in 2016 compared to 2012, while non-voter ID state Minnesota had several counties exceed their 2012 totals. It also showed that Wisconsin counties with higher African-American populations were likely to have larger drops in turnout.
The lost voters skewed more African-American and more Democrat. For example, Wisconsin’s 2016 electorate was 6.1% more Republican, and 5.7% less Democrat, than the group of ‘lost voters’. Furthermore, the WI electorate was 3.7% more White and 3.8% less African American than the group of ‘lost voters.’ This analysis suggests that the 200,000 lost voters would have both been more racially diverse and have voted more Democratic.
In a state where Donald Trump won by less 0.8%, this difference in turnout seems pretty decisive. And since it isn’t in the GOP’s interest to have more marginal, Dem-leaning voters turn out, why would they want to staff up the Elections Commission to clear up confusion and help more people go to the polls?
It also seems odd to be reducing the staffing at the Elections Commission in a time when voting rights and other election-related laws are being disputed more than ever, particularly in ALEC states like Wisconsin where GOPs try to pass laws to cement their advantage in the Legislature. Just today, the US Supreme Court refused to hear a case after a lower court had struck down a vote suppression measure in North Carolina, meaning that the law was now invalid.
You’d have to think that Wisconsin might be one of those states due for more court cases with their recent ALEC-infused voting changes, and that combined with the potential for court-ordered redistricting in the next 6 months, would make you think that the Elections Commission should be at full strength just in case there is a need to make significant adjustments ahead of the several elections in 2018.
So while the question of 6 positions and $730,000 split 50-50 with the Feds may not seem like a big deal on the surface when you’re talking about a $70 billion + Wisconsin state budget, the underlying point that Scott Walker and his fellow ALEC Republicans are using this budget to further distort and mess up the state’s elections needs to be brought into the light, especially after the recent news which shows that GOP hijinks may have made the difference in last year’s close election.
They’re not going to stop until the courts and the people make them stop. KNOW THIS.