As state elections authority goes, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has arguably the least among the 50 states. People who follow elections policy in other states usually require serious attitude adjustment and re-education when they turn their attention to Wisconsin. If they don’t learn about our state before commenting, they are likely to make some bad calls.
A recent ad, paid for by a group called Voter Rights Action, is a good example. Voter Rights Action spent good money to purchase an ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and maybe elsewhere, that has naivete written all over it. I’ve copied the ad below.
It says: “Dean Knudson and the Wisconsin Elections Commission failed to prepare and keep voters safe. Like making it easier to vote by mail. Or reducing crowding at polling places.”
In fact, despite their meager authority, the WEC and their staff probably did as much or more than anyone else, while facing ridiculously partisan headwinds in the weeks leading up to the April 7 election, to make that election come off as well as it did. On April 6, I don’t think anyone predicted the turnout that Wisconsin voters achieved.
If vote-by-mail is too restrictive in Wisconsin (it could be made easier), that is the Legislature’s fault. The WEC has no authority to suspend or revise statutory requirements (e.g., a witness signature, a photocopy of a voter ID) that make it harder to vote by mail in Wisconsin than elsewhere. But WEC staff do an excellent job, through their award-winning web presence, to make it easy for voters to get timely, correct, helpful instruction on how to comply with those laws.
Any voting-rights activists and concerned citizens who want more or easier vote-by-mail need to focus their energies not on complaining to WEC, as that naive ad recommends, but on contacting their state legislators or working to replace them. I challenge any complainer to suggest an improvement to the MyVote website. I know I cannot think of one that I’d make.
When it became apparent that in-person voting during a pandemic was a possibility, the WEC staff went even farther above and beyond the call of duty. They quickly developed and distributed excellent instructions on how to create polling places that maintain social distancing and minimize voter and poll-worker contact with unsanitized surfaces. They could not predict, as no one could, how the court cases and political battles were going to come out, but nevertheless provided timely practical guidance to the local clerks about how to maintain safe voting in a pandemic if they needed to–which they did, as it turned out.
And again, if you are angry that the election was not postponed, don’t complain to or about the staff who knocked themselves out to make sure that the election stayed as safe as possible, within whatever constraints the legislature and courts were going to impose. The culpability lies with the legislature, so direct your anger there.
The fact that a few big cities–Milwaukee in particular–opened only a few polling places was a shared responsibility between the Legislature and the municipalities themselves. The WEC has neither the authority nor the resources to force or help municipalities open more polling places than the municipality says it can. (And isn’t it embarrassing for the Wisconsin civic community that the decision whether even to investigate what went wrong with the poll closings or could have been done better is jerked around by partisan passions and agendas?)
Anyone who follows this blog or Wisconsin Election Integrity’s Facebook page knows that I believe the WEC could exercise stronger leadership on the fully nonpartisan, no-brainer issue of election-securing audits. But as far as the events leading up to the April 7 election, the WEC deserves nothing but our thanks and praise.