Matt Rothschild
Op Ed

Audit Bureau Does Hatchet Job on Elections Commission

Nonpartisan agency departs from traction with biased report.

By - Oct 31st, 2021 12:20 pm
Voters wait in line to vote early at the Zeidler Municipal Building. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Voters wait in line to vote early at the Zeidler Municipal Building. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s report on the November 2021 elections is a hatchet job on the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

But let’s be clear at the outset: The report found nothing to demonstrate, and did not conclude, that the results of the elections were invalid. It presented no evidence of sweeping improprieties or calculated partisan maneuvers that distorted the outcome of the elections. None of that is in this report. Nothing of that kind.

Instead, the report found discrepancies that are typical of most elections. A total of “four individuals may have voted twice,” it noted, and “eleven individual who died before November 3” but had already cast their absentee ballots likely had their votes counted, and “eight individuals with ongoing felony sentences may have voted.”

That’s 23 out of a total of 3,241,050 voters. That’s 0.0007 percent!

Instead of finding massive illegal voting, the LAB went after the Wisconsin Elections Commission in a biased, one-sided, and unprecedented way.

Contrary to past practice, the LAB did not share its findings with the agency it was investigating ahead of time. It admitted as much, with a pathetic excuse.

“Although we typically allow an audited entity the opportunity to review our draft audit report and respond in writing to it, we did not do so for this report,” the LAB wrote. “To preserve the statutorily required confidentiality of our audit until its completion, we did not provide WEC with an opportunity to review a confidential draft audit report and respond in writing to this report prior to its release.”

There can always be leaks when the LAB shares a draft with the agency it’s investigating. There was no reason to change policy for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and the fact that the LAB did so this time undermines the validity of the report itself.

The LAB scolded the Wisconsin Elections Commission for the way it operated the elections and the advice it gave to clerks in response to the COVID pandemic – a pandemic that the LAB seemed remarkably clueless and callous about.

For instance, the LAB rapped the knuckles of the Elections Commission staff for not complying with the statutes when, in March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, they waived off special voting deputies from going to retirement facilities and long-term care facilities in the middle of the pandemic and instead mailed out absentee ballots to the residents.

Not only was this the prudent thing to do. The staff was in a legal bind, as even the LAB admitted: “WEC’s staff did so based on WEC’s interpretation that the deputies were ‘non-essential’ individuals prohibited from visiting facilities and homes as a result of Executive Order 72 and DHS directives pertaining to the public health emergency.”

Still, they were criticized for this.

There was virtually no acknowledgment of the extraordinary circumstances that the Wisconsin Elections Commission was facing with the pandemic and with the surge of absentee ballot requests. Rather, there was a lot of nitpicking by the LAB.

Substantively, on the question of drop boxes, the report noted that Wisconsin statutes are silent on whether they can be used or not. It did not find that they were used illegally.

Same with “Democracy in the Park” in Madison and efforts by clerks in other municipalities to gather absentee ballots outside of the clerk’s office.

Nor did the report find that the use of consultants by some municipalities was a big issue.

So the red herrings that we’ve been hearing about for so many months now actually did not amount to anything.

Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: Audit Bureau Does Hatchet Job on Elections Commission”

  1. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    It really is absurd that the Elections Commission is being criticized for not letting SVDs into a nursing home DURING A PANDEMIC.

    And the only reason there had to be an election in April 2020 during a Safer at Home order is because Robbin’ Vos and the rest of the GOP Legislature were trying to sneak another “Justice” onto the state Supreme Court (which thankfully failed).

    The same Legislature went on a 10 1/2 month paid vacation instead of meeting to figure out what should and should not be done with an election that is happening DURING A PANDEMIC.

    Instead, they passed the buck to the WEC, and now have the nerve to whine about those decisions in order to continue to spread the Big Lie. And LAB should have given that context.

  2. Trmott says:

    “…Nor did the report find that the use of consultants by some municipalities was a big issue.”

    Is this a reference to the apparent “irregularities” being alleged in Brown County — GreenBay and elsewhere that people not working in the governmental formal election operations were given access to ballots, “curing ballots” and pollling place equipment? I will try to find time to dig into this further …. but for now, is that what’s being referred to here —— and what makes something “a big issue”, versus a non-issue versus an actual/technical/literal but “inconsequential” Issue? Thanks, Jake, or anyone else for helping to clarify

  3. TransitRider says:

    The article contains a mathematical error. It says that 23 votes out of 3,241,050 is 0.000007%. The actual value is 0.0007%—100 times higher. That’s still a very small number, and doesn’t negate the author’s point.

    It reflects a common error when expressing vary small percentage values (where people forget to multiply a raw number by 100 when expressing it as a percent).

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