GOP Bill Moves State Elections Commission to Wausau
Opponents note this moves the commission away from the majority of state population.
A new state Assembly bill is proposing to move the Wisconsin Elections Commission from Madison to Wausau.
The Elections Commission is one of more than 60 state agencies and commissions. Under current state law, all commissions must be located in Madison.
Some of these bodies, the Elections Commission included, rent office space in the city.
According to a study done by Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Racine, the Elections Commission pays $250,000 annually to lease 11,500 square feet at 212 E. Washington Ave. in Madison, a privately owned property. The bill’s sponsors argue that moving the offices to Wausau, where rents are cheaper, would save taxpayers money.
In addition to cost saving, Steffen said the move to Wausau would benefit elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Come election season, all elected officials must submit their nomination papers in-person to the Elections Commission. Moving the offices closer to the geographic center of the state would make this easier, said Rep. Steffen.
But it’s not that simple.
While Wausau might represent the state’s geographic center, the majority of the state’s population and Assembly districts are concentrated in the southeast.
This was a concern shared by the advocacy group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the lone opposition at Wednesday’s hearing.
“They just pulled Wausau out of a hat,” said Matt Rothschild, the group’s executive director, after the hearing. “There’s a reason why commissions and agencies are located in Madison because this is where the state government is. This is the natural logical place for things to be housed.”
The bill was well-received by the committee, but Chairman Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, also happens to be a sponsor of the bill. Additional sponsors, all of whom are Republican, include Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport; Rep. David Armstrong, R-Rice Lake; Rep. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton; Rep. Clint Moses, R-Menomonie; Rep. Donna Rozar, R-Marshfield; and Rep. Ron Tusler, R-Harrison.
“This just looks to me like another Republican stunt, another distraction from the real issues that people want the legislature to deal with here in Wisconsin,” said Rothschild.
There is some precedent for at least exploring the possibility of relocating commissions in the state, said Steffen. In the past, there have been proposals to move the state Department of Natural Resources north of Highway 29 and the Department of Tourism to Wisconsin Dells. But none have succeeded.
And while there are satellite or regional offices for some agencies scattered throughout the state, most still have their administrative headquarters in Madison.
And in the wake of a global pandemic with federal unemployment benefits ending, this isn’t exactly a pressing issue for Wisconsinites right now, opponents say.
“The people of Wisconsin don’t care about where the Wisconsin Elections Commission is located,” said Rothschild. “They care about good jobs, getting health care, having their public schools funded, making sure their broadband works. No one’s been clamoring for this change.”
Proposed Assembly Bill Would Move Wisconsin Elections Commission To Wausau was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
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