Elections Commission to ask lawmakers to restore three staff positions

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The Elections Commission unanimously voted to ask lawmakers to add back three staffers to handle core agency functions, including election security.

The state budget had cut six positions.

Agency Administrator Mike Haas suggested during Monday’s meeting there could be options to use federal funds or existing Elections Commission resources to cover the positions. Still, commissioners also urged him to explore seeking general purpose revenue to cover $452,000 over the remainder of the biennium.

The decision to seek the additional positions follows recent reports that Russian hackers had targeted state systems last year.

Haas said while the agency is already understaffed in terms of keeping current operations running, the focus on election security is further “complicating matters” in terms of staffing.

“My opinion is that we are falling behind in some of our normal and traditional tasks outside of election security,” Haas said.

Chair Mark Thomsen agreed, though he noted three additional positions wouldn’t be enough.

“If there was ever a time we needed six, it’s now, especially looking at 2018,” he said.

Of the additional positions, two would largely deal with election security, while the third would focus on voter outreach, including updating public information surrounding voter registration and photo ID requirements.

Haas said after going through the commission’s budget, he believes the money for the positions could be covered internally — largely by the remaining federal Help America Vote Act dollars that had covered the six positions cut in the budget, as well as existing state dollars.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appointee Commissioner Dean Knudson, though, said now is the time to request general purpose revenue from lawmakers.

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget originally included funding for 25.75 positions, declining a request to use state money for another six jobs that had been covered by federal Help America Vote Act dollars. The Legislature added five positions, but Walker vetoed those. He wrote in his veto message the commission should make use of more temporary workers.

But Commissioner Jodi Jensen, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said clerks and voters around the state seeking help from the commission need an “expert.”

“I don’t think you can call someone in two weeks of the year and expect them to be that person,” she said.

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