Last month, Republican legislators introduced Senate Bill 834 that would dissolve the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commissions (WEC) and further centralize power in the state legislature. Dissolving the WEC – the entity responsible for election administration in the state – is a blatant attempt to pacify election deniers in Wisconsin who have attacked the body by promoting false claims that it meddled in the 2020 presidential election. Dismantling the WEC would hurt Wisconsin democracy and Wisconsinites’ faith in our elections.
The WEC was established by Republican lawmakers in 2015 to replace the Government Accountability Board (GAB). It is designed to be bipartisan, with a 3-3 split of Democratic and Republican-appointed commissioners tasked with ensuring Wisconsin’s election system runs smoothly. Nonpartisan WEC staff led by an administrator act at the direction of the commission. Amid the manufactured “election hoax” hysteria of 2020, we witnessed politicians across the country declare war on election officials, casting unfounded aspersions on everyone from secretaries of state to volunteer poll workers and county clerks.
In Wisconsin, these attacks haven’t stopped. Only a few months ago, the state Senate voted to remove the administrator of the WEC, Meagan Wolfe, from office, a step that Senators would eventually call “symbolic” after a judge ruled it unlawful. Lawmakers have also proposed two different resolutions to impeach Wolfe, though Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has urged his caucus to instead “focus on the future.” After failing to remove its commissioner, extremist legislators have now turned their attention to dismantling the WEC altogether. If passed and signed into law this legislative session, the proposed legislation would require the WEC administrator to immediately work with the Secretary of State to formulate a plan to transfer the responsibility for election administration just months before the 2024 presidential election.
However, the Secretary of State would need legislative authorization before making any changes to how elections operate, effectively putting the ultimate decision-making authority in the hands of partisan politicians, some of whom have attempted to subvert free and fair elections in the past.
State Senator Dan Knodl, chair of the Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections, and Consumer Protection, who introduced the WEC-banishing bill, also signed a letter urging former Vice President Mike Pence to delay certifying the 2020 presidential election. Ironically, this legislation was circulated for co-sponsorship the same week that Wisconsin false electors admitted their actions were used in an effort to “improperly overturn” the 2020 presidential election results. Republicans used taxpayer money to fund a 14-month inquiry into the 2020 election. The inquiry “found no evidence of widespread fraud” but spread unfounded conspiracy theories across the state, adding more doubt to Wisconsin’s elections.
This new legislation to dismantle the bipartisan elections commission is not an anomaly but part of a broader attack to dismantle Wisconsin’s democracy and undermine the will of the people. These attacks on Wisconsin’s fair and free elections cannot be separated from an attempt earlier this year to undermine Wisconsin’s voters by threatening to impeach newly-elected Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz before she ruled on a single case.
Attacks on Wisconsinites’ voting rights by the Republican-controlled state legislature goes back decades. This attack on the WEC follows a long precedent of power-hungry politicians attempting to remove power from other institutions to benefit themselves, including the voice and power of the people of Wisconsin.