Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs is asking the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Audit Committee to delay a Tuesday hearing on LAB’s look at the 2020 election until after the body meets Dec. 1 to discuss the report.
The co-chairs have asked Administrator Meagan Wolfe, who’s faced calls from GOP lawmakers to resign, to appear before the committee. But until the commission approves a response to the report, Jacobs wrote in a letter to the co-chairs Thursday, no commissioner or staffer asked to appear before the committee would be able to provide a meaningful response to lawmakers’ questions.
“They would literally respond, ‘The Commission has not yet had the opportunity to meet and to issue its formal response,'” Jacobs wrote.
Jacobs added if Co-chairs Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, and Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, would agree to the delay, she and Wolfe would be happy to appear.
The offices of the co-chairs didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment to the letter, which was sent late Thursday afternoon.
Tuesday’s hearing comes as Senate Republicans are preparing to empower the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics to look into issues that were raised in the audit as well as Madison’s refusal to allow Legislative Audit Bureau staffers to physically handle ballots and election records.
Jacobs wrote the commission was unable to find a date to review the audit before Dec. 1 and has been playing “catch up” on the 155-page report because the LAB didn’t share a draft before releasing it publicly.
Typically, the LAB provides a draft of its reports to those who were audited before they’re released, but it deviated from that practice with this report for several reasons. That includes preventing the leak of details before the report was formally released. The agency noted in its report the Elections Commission administrator has limited authority without the governing board’s involvement and the commissioners can only meet in closed session for specific purposes. Responding to an audit isn’t one of them.
Jacobs, a Dem appointee, wrote the Elections Commission would’ve been able to review the report and provide input while following open meetings laws as other agencies do.
“The LAB’s supposed concern was bizarre and not founded in law or practice,” she wrote.
Read Jacobs’ letter:
See the hearing notice:
The Elections Commission’s staff counsel separately sent a letter to the state auditor complaining the agency’s refusal to share a draft of the report allowed errors in the final document that lawmakers and the public are now perpetuating as fact.
Staff counsel James Witecha added the LAB’s lack of transparency “only serves to damage the credibility of the report and the hard work of LAB staff who compiled it.”
In previous statements, the commission has said there are errors in the report, but declined to identify them until after the commissioners meet to approve a formal response. Likewise, Thursday’s letter from Witecha doesn’t identify any specific errors the agency believes were included in the audit.
Instead, Witecha focuses on what he wrote was the LAB’s deviation from its own posted procedures for an audit that include sharing a draft with the subject of the report. Failing to do so meant the report didn’t include the usual response from the auditee and there wasn’t a formal opportunity for the two agencies to meet and discuss the draft.
Witecha wrote the LAB didn’t tell the commission when the audit began that it planned to deviate from standard practice.
“It should also be noted that the report must have been selectively distributed prior to the release date as we began getting inquiries the night before we were notified that the report was being released,” Witecha wrote. ” This approach allows inaccuracies and inconsistencies to become part of the public record.”
The letter asks for cooperating in correcting inaccuracies and asks the LAB to turn over its policies on its standard audit practices.
Read the WEC letter to the LAB: