GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he’s never studied whether the Legislature could take over elections administration in Wisconsin as U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is urging lawmakers to do.
After meeting with state lawmakers Wednesday, the Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the Legislature should reassert its authority over the election system.
Johnson has said he will announce soon whether he will seek a third term next year.
“There’s no mention of the governor in the Constitution,” Johnson told the paper after the closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers. “It says state legislatures, and so if I were running the joint — and I’m not — I would come out and I would just say, ‘We’re reclaiming our authority. Don’t listen to (the Elections Commission) anymore. Their guidances are null and void.'”
Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters yesterday the meeting with Johnson largely focused on other issues and that he encouraged the senator to review the Legislative Audit Bureau’s report on the 2020 election.
“The idea of saying that, yes, the Elections Commission has to follow the law by working with the Legislature, that’s in the statute’s that’s how it has to happen. So if that’s Sen. Johnson’s intent, he’s right. The Legislature has to be involved,” Vos said. “But the idea of somehow we’re going to take over the elections and do all those things, I’ve never studied that. I don’t know about it. But that wasn’t part of our discussion.”
Vos noted a 1964 state Supreme Court ruling rejected the suggestion that the Legislature could complete redistricting through a resolution without involving the guv.
Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman addressed the issue in a just-released report, arguing it’s an “open question in state law” if the Legislature can “tighten up or loosen election security for federal elections” without input from the governor.
Gableman’s interim report, released Wednesday, covers the main issues that he’s been looking into under a $676,000 taxpayer-funded contract he signed with Vos. That includes the authority of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Gableman wrote the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the primary responsibility for establishing rules regarding things like voter registration. He argued that power was ratified in the Wisconsin Constitution, which declares “legislative power shall be vested in a senate and assembly.”
He argues the combined impact means it’s an open question whether the two chambers can take action through joint resolution, which doesn’t require gubernatorial input and “whether there are limits on how much of this constitutional responsibility can and should be delegated to other state actors” such as the Elections Commission.
Still, Gableman notes in the report that the Wisconsin Constitution also clearly states the guv’s role in signing bills into law.
“It may be the case that the Senate and Assembly can change election regulations in the absence of a statute on the books, indeed Wisconsin law appears silent on this question, but it would be another matter for the Senate and Assembly to seek to repeal an extant portion of the election code.”
See page 8 of the report: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/211110Interim.pdf