Wisconsin Deserves Better Election Watchdogs

Senator Scott Fitzgerald is onto something with his desire to reform the pathetically biased and secretive Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Need proof that the GAB needs reform? Look no further than the reaction from Democrats who fear their sure thing panel of holier than thou retired judges may be on the chopping block.

Former Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller, who led the fleebag 14 to Illinois last year in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart the Act 10 public employee labor reforms, invoked none other than Josef Stalin. 

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca proclaimed that an effort to bring more certainty, transparency and accountability to the GAB was ‘anti democracy.’ 

In the coming days look for the blowhard spokesclown of the state Democratic party and the self righteous lefties at One Wisconsin Now to offer similar breathless indignation.

The Wisconsin GAB, whose symbol bears and uncanny resemblance to that of the anarchists, has a brief and soiled history.

Why would Republicans say that the GAB has turned out to not be the impartial arbiter they hoped it would be when they teamed with the Democrats in 2007 to create the panel?

Consider the following:

The GAB originally had no intention of scrutinizing and flagging and omitting obviously fake names from the recall petitions last year. Signatures from Adolph Hitler and Mickey mouse would be deemed valid and only stricken if challenged. 

Similarly, they had no intention, originally, of creating an online database of those who foisted upon taxpayers the most expensive temper tantrum in state’s history.  Had two Tea Party organizations not produced iverifytherecall.com, no one in the state would have had confidence that the recallers brought forward enough valid signatures.

Staff which oversaw the recall had obvious partisan leanings. When one was caught mocking the GOP on twitter, he quickly moved to erase the evidence. But the Internet is forever.

This year, when presented with evidence of gross incompetence during the administration of the election in Racine, the GAB moved to crack down on…election observers.

As I wrote earlier this year:

Newsflash: The Government Accountability Board has reacted to concerns about problems with the recent recall election in Racine.

From their recent press release:

“Our system of open, transparent elections depends on members of the public serving as observers at polling places,” said Kennedy. “However, in recent elections we have received disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behavior by observers. Voters expect a calm setting in which to exercise their right to vote.”

As part of its “Back to Basics” plan for the Fall Election Cycle, the G.A.B. is putting an emphasis on training local election officials to deal with boisterous, disruptive election observers, said Elections Division Administrator Nat Robinson.

“Observers may not speak to or intimidate voters. Poll workers do not have to put up with observers who bully them or question their actions,” Robinson said. “The Chief Inspector is in charge at each polling place, and must be obeyed. Our training will underscore that Chief Inspectors are empowered by law to order troublemakers to leave, and to call law enforcement if they refuse.”

You read that right. That GAB is disturbed by poll watchers. While there were a couple of unacceptable instances where poll watchers spoke poll workers instead of chief inspectors at polling sites, rational observers know the far larger issue in the June 5 recall election was the integrity of the registration process and activities (or lack their of) of election officials themselves.

For full disclosure, in that same release, the GAB did offer an explanation of the rules and regulation regarding voter registration, but note the difference in tone and urgency:

“It is important for voters to know their rights and responsibilities,” said Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the G.A.B. “Being well informed is the best defense against complications at the polling place, including frivolous challenges to a voter’s eligibility.”

“To exercise your right to vote, you must be properly registered,” Kennedy said. “When you register in the 20 days before an election or on Election Day, it is your responsibility to provide proper proof of residence.” It can be a current and valid Wisconsin driver license or state ID card, but also a tax bill, a lease, a utility or cell phone bill, or a paycheck. It cannot be a sales receipt or a piece of junk mail. A list of acceptable documents is on the Board’s website: http://gab.wi.gov/elections-voting/voters/registration-voting.

The two-page flier titled “Wisconsin Voter Rights and Responsibilities” also includes important information about observing elections and challenging voters. It is available online at http://gab.wi.gov/rights.

That was their reaction to the mess in Racine?

Yes. Yes it was.

Consider that it is known that many voters may have been mistakenly given ballots without having signed the poll list as required by Wisconsin law; Some voters were given a ballot without providing their address at all.

Perhaps most troubling of all are the revelations that some ballot bags were torn open and resealed either on or since election night and the chain of custody for these bags and the ballots within them can not be ascertained.

There are conflicting accounts about the status of those bags. Poll workers, chief election inspectors and officials at the City of Racine Clerk’s office can’t agree on who did what with the ballot bags.

We also know that some ballots were prematurely initialed, making them ‘live’ and ripe for fraud.


Let that soak in for a moment…

When faced with problems with the chain of custody with ballot bags in a close state senate recall election, the GAB refused to investigate. 

The GAB blames nearly every election administration problem on ‘a lack of training.’

Current GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy has been in charge of training Wisconsin’s election administrators for three decades.

Given that, perhaps it’s not out of line to consider some changes?

The GAB itself is comprised of retired judges. One need only look at the Byzantine method by which these judges are placed on the board to know that the system lacks transparency and accountability.

Every time there is a vacancy for the GAB, a panel of current judges must recommend at least two retired judges to fill the vacancy. The Governor can only pick from the judges put forward by this panel.

The candidate committee is made up of four sitting Wisconsin Court of Appeals judges.

Committee members are supposedly selected at random by the activist Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Shirley Abrahamson, and serve a two-year term.  They are charged with nominating replacements to the GAB from a list of willing applicants, all of whom must be former elected judges.

Got that?

Maybe the GAB logo’s similarity to the anarchist symbol wasn’t accidental?

Is Fitzgerald’s prescription the correct one? Maybe. Maybe not.

But surely the citizens of Wisconsin deserve better than the status quo.

For the GAB is a joke that no amount of training and no blessing by unaccountable judges can fix.