Madison, Wis. – Last week, the Milwaukee and Dane County Clerks unilaterally decided to advise voters that they may declare themselves “indefinitely confined” in order to circumvent the statutory requirement that citizens upload a copy of their photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot. In response, the Wisconsin Elections Commission held an emergency vote on a motion to investigate the legality of the clerks’ decisions to ignore election laws. The vote failed to pass, with three commissioners voting along party lines to defeat it. In response to this failure of oversight, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R–New Berlin) issued the following statement:
“Free and trustworthy elections represent the bedrock upon which our republic is built. The Legislature and Governor have enacted laws to ensure uniform access to fair elections across the state, but they depend on local officials’ good faith compliance and state administrators’ careful oversight.
“That is why I am profoundly disappointed by the actions of these WEC members this weekend, effectively abdicating their responsibility for protecting the integrity of our state’s elections. It is WEC’s statutory duty to administer and enforce Wisconsin’s election laws, as well as to investigate and prosecute any potential violations of those laws. The commissioners were fully aware of these unilateral actions by election officials in Wisconsin’s two most populous counties to wrongfully suspend a statutorily prescribed mandate meant to ensure the fundamental integrity of the vote: that the person requesting the absentee ballot is, in fact, the voter—not someone trying to fraudulently obtain and cast that ballot. Indeed, the Supreme Court released an order today explicitly ruling that the Dane County Clerk’s ‘advice was legally incorrect.’ Nevertheless, WEC chose to do nothing.
“I have three main concerns with these local officials’ actions: First, that they intentionally misapplied a provision meant to assist medically ill and vulnerable voters in order to advance an unlawful result. Second, I am troubled by the inherent unfairness of two counties unilaterally declaring new election procedures. Such changes must come from WEC or the Legislature to ensure uniform application statewide. Finally, that the last-minute, ad-hoc nature of these decisions undermines the process safeguards that protect the integrity and trustworthiness of our elections.
“The law on this matter is very clear: WEC ‘shall investigate violations of laws administered by the commission.’
The unambiguous nature of both the clerks’ wrongdoing and of WEC’s statutory obligations is why I am so disappointed by WEC’s failure to act and why I have requested further information on this decision to ensure a full and open accounting takes place. By failing to properly investigate such a straightforward violation of state election law, these commissioners continue a pattern of disregard for the responsibilities of the office they swore to faithfully discharge. If they are not going to carry out the duties of their office within the confines of the law, they should resign their positions immediately. The integrity of our voting process is critical to the functioning of our republic, and we must make sure to hold accountable those responsible for safeguarding our elections.”