Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe jousted with GOP lawmakers as she urged corrections to a critical LAB report on the 2020 election.
Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said he was taken aback by what he called Wolfe’s attack on the Legislative Audit Bureau since the report was released last month, saying he’d never seen an agency head take that approach toward the nonpartisan agency.
During Wolfe’s testimony before the Joint Legislative Audit Committee yesterday, Born said the issues she raised about the report were minor.
“I don’t see here there are major problems with this audit. I don’t see the errors that you were citing. It seems to be very minor interpretations of things for the most part,” Born said.
Wolfe countered errors in the report have been cited by those “trying to undermine the credibility of our democracy.” She noted the LAB didn’t share a draft of the report with the commission ahead of time, saying it would’ve allowed the agency to fix the errors.
The LAB said it didn’t share the report to protect the confidentiality of the details before its public release.
“I’m taken aback that folks are so taken aback that I’m appalled to question that,” Wolfe said, noting other agencies have been given the opportunity to provide input on audits before they’re released.
Ahead of the hearing, Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs had asked the co-chairs to delay hearing testimony until after the board meets Dec. 1. She wrote that would allow the commission to approve a formal response to the audit and that without that, Wolfe wouldn’t be able to present the body’s full view of the report.
Wolfe underscored that in her prepared testimony. Once committee members were allowed to ask questions, Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, called it “repugnant and insulting” that Wolfe had suggested she couldn’t fully address their questions.
He said other agency heads have appeared before the committee, accepted responsibility for issues found by the LAB and pledged to fix them, even if those problems were created before they took office.
“I just find this whole thing a joke today, and you’d done nothing to help allay my fears and concerns,” Macco said.
Wolfe countered she can’t force the commission to meet or to take action. She pointed out she answers to the six commissioners and she’d be overstepping her authority to do what Macco was suggesting.
“I’m not sure what you’re implying that I should have done other than provide the facts about how it works, about how elections work,” Wolfe said.
When the LAB report was first issued, Wolfe said there were errors, but didn’t provide details.
In her prepared remarks yesterday, she for the first time provided examples, including:
*her assertion it is “absolutely wrong” to suggest Wisconsin missed several opportunities to obtain data from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multi-state effort to share information. Wolfe said the commission obtained all data sets once they were made available to Wisconsin. In several instances, the data sets LAB said the commission had failed to obtain didn’t exist when Wisconsin first joined ERIC. For example, one report analyzing multiple voters wasn’t available to Wisconsin until after the 2018 election.
She called it perhaps the most significant error in the report.
*the report identified 70 pairs of drivers license numbers in the statewide voter registration system. Wolfe said 68 of those pairs were unrelated voters where one had the correct license number and the other person had entered one or two incorrect numbers. The commission found evidence of possible double voting with one of the remaining pairs; after contacting the municipality involved, staff found out that pair had already been identified and referred for criminal prosecution.
*Wolfe said the LAB’s presentation on processing death and felon notices included several misleading presentations. That includes one suggestion that clerks had been negligent in failing to check records. But Wolfe pointed to a footnote that nearly all the records had already been deactivated.
“The overwhelming majority of clerks made no determination because no determination was required – the voter was no longer registered to vote,” Wolfe said.
*one section states “statutes require the WEC to maintain WisVote.” Wolfe said state law only requires the agency to maintain a voter registration system, not WisVote.
*Wolfe said LAB misrepresented advice the agency gave clerks on the requirement that clerks can’t take a break until they’re finished counting ballots. Wolfe said the agency was asked by clerks what to do if inspectors who hadn’t completed the canvas became unable to finish due to health or emergency conditions. She said that the rest of the 12-page memo the agency gave clerks clearly stated they couldn’t adjourn until the canvas was done.
“This single sentence tried to account for this real, on-the-ground contingency,” Wolfe said.
During the hearing, Jacobs also disputed the assertion that the three Dem appointees declined to meet with LAB staff. She tweeted a screenshot of a May email in which she asked LAB if State Auditor Joe Chrisman planned to reach out to her.
“LAB falsely claims I refused to speak with them. Not only did I send them a letter, I reached out to confirm that they were going to speak with me. They never responded,” Jacobs tweeted.