Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said Monday calls for her to resign following allegations raised by the Racine County sheriff are unproductive, baseless and driven by partisan politics.
Multiple GOP lawmakers last week called on Wolfe to resign after the sheriff accused the commission of directing local clerks to break the law by suspending the requirement that they send special voting deputies to assisted living facilities before sending residents absentee ballots.
Wolfe noted during a media availability Monday the commission voted unanimously last spring during an open meeting to suspend the requirement that clerks try sending special voting deputies to assisted care facilities twice before mailing residents absentee ballots if they request them. She stressed she had no vote in that decision and her duties are to carry out the commission’s directives in a nonpartisan manner.
GOP Commissioner Dean Knudson said some Republican lawmakers are looking for a scapegoat after Donald Trump lost Wisconsin by less than 21,000 votes last year and that’s why they’re seeking the resignation of Wolfe and members of the commission.
Wolfe said she concurred with the assessment.
“In some ways they think I’m an easy target. I’m not,” Wolfe said, saying the calls were “partisan politics at its worst.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, were the highest-ranking Republicans in their chambers to call for Wolfe’s resignation. Vos’ office didn’t immediately return a message seeking reaction to Wolfe’s remarks. Kapenga’s office declined comment.
Wolfe also said the accusation that the commission and staff violated the law with the guidance it issued to clerks highlights a lack of understanding about how special voting deputies work. Wolfe said assisted care facilities last year refused to allow in the special voting deputies, who aid residents in casting their ballots. Neither the commission nor local clerks have the power to force private facilities to allow the special voting deputies entrance to the facilities.
The commission’s guidance to send absentee ballots to those who request them without first requiring two visits was done to ensure residents had time to receive their ballots, fill them out and return them by mail.
She noted only a court can decide someone is incompetent to vote and said reports that residents at a Racine County facility were coerced into voting were troubling. Wolfe said any instances where procedures weren’t followed by the care facility or local officials should be investigated and referred to local prosecutors.
The Racine County Sheriff’s lead investigator in the case suggested last week those working at the assisted care facility were simply acting at the direction of the commission, even though they may have broken the law in doing so. Ultimate responsibility, he said, rested with the commission.
Wolfe also said the agency will detail ahead of a December commission meeting errors it believes were included in the recent Legislative Audit Bureau report.
The agency’s initial reaction to the report suggested there were errors, but didn’t include any details. Wolfe said she couldn’t detail any mistakes, adding those would be presented to the commission for the Dec. 1 meeting.
The LAB didn’t share a draft of the audit with the Elections Commission before it was published. The LAB typically shares drafts with the entity audited, but noted in this report it didn’t provide one to the Elections Commission ahead of the release. That’s because 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.
Wolfe said she will prepare three things for the commission to consider at the meeting: a list of items from the audit that the commission can address immediately; a list of requested corrections the agency could ask LAB to make in its report; and a request for guidance on longer-term issues such as drafting administrative rules.
Among other things, LAB recommended the commission promulgate administrative rules if it believes clerks should be permitted not to send special voting deputies to residential care facilities in some circumstances.