Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Is An Elections Inspector General Needed?

Wisconsin Elections Commission requests funding for new position and 10 new staff. Why?

By - Sep 12th, 2022 11:52 am
Only 61,634 votes were cast in the Feb 15., 2022 primary. Photo taken Feb 15., 2022 by Jeramey Jannene.

Only 61,634 votes were cast in the Feb 15., 2022 primary. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

On paper, and If you remove the politics — which seems impossible in the gridlocked state Capitol — the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) request to create an Office of Inspector General appears justified.

Consider two statistics cited by WEC, which oversees elections in which more than 3.2 million votes are cast in presidential election years:

-Formal election complaints WEC reviews have soared from 15 per year before 2020 to more than 50 per year now.

-Since 2016, the average number of public records requests received per month by WEC has increased from two to 16 – an eightfold increase.

Not included in these numbers is criticism of the WEC from conservatives and some Republican legislators, who claim there were problems with the 2020 presidential election, and want its administrator, Meagan Wolfe, fired and the WEC dissolved. There is no agreement among Republican legislators and candidates on what would replace WEC, however.

The WEC has an annual budget of $5.9 million, less than one-third the budget of the state Department of Financial Institutions. WEC has not had an increase in its 31-employee staff in four years.

Commissioners who oversee the WEC voted to ask the next governor — Democratic incumbent Tony Evers or Republican Tim Michels — to include $1.34 million and 10 more employees in a new Office of Inspector General (OIG) as part of next year’s formal 2023-25 budget request to the Legislature. The proposal calls for the inspector general to be hired by the WEC’s administrator, and not by the three-Republican, three-Democrat commission.

Elections Commission Chair Don Millis, an appointee of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is a lawyer who has worked on election-related issues for decades. He was one of the first WEC members after Republicans created it in 2016 and, before that, was a member of a WEC predecessor, the state Elections Board..

Asked last week why an OIG office is needed, Millis said it would increase confidence in how Wisconsin elections are conducted. “Wisconsin, like most states, currently employs more technology and procedures to ensure secure and accurate elections than at any time in the past. This includes statewide voter registration, intrastate and interstate monitoring of registration and voting behavior, and photo ID requirements,” Millis said. “Yet, in recent years, confidence in election results has plummeted. In 2016 Jill Stein and allies of Hillary Clinton challenged the Wisconsin presidential elections results. Of course, allies of Donald Trump have been challenging the results of the 2020 election results for nearly two years.”

“Due to a lack of confidence in election procedures and results, the Elections Commission has been inundated with requests for documents and demands for answers from legislators and the public in the form of open records requests, as well as complaints which often turn into lawsuits,” Millis continued. “Staff and the Commission have to give priority to these inquiries. This has detracted from the work of the Commission in other areas, such as clerk and voter education.”

An inspector general would respond to inquiries from the “public, legislators and litigants” and “respond promptly and thoroughly and increase confidence in the election process and election results,” Millis said.

New employees could also work with local clerks, who conduct elections, and other states to make sure “those entitled to vote are not denied the franchise and those who are ineligible remain off the rolls,” he said.

Wolfe said an OIG would clear the backlogs of requests for election-related information. “The election landscape since this agency was established in 2016 is nearly unrecognizable,” she added. “Current staffing levels are inadequate to handle the post-2020 volume.”

WEC’s request for an inspector general is a long way from becoming law. It would have to be approved by the budget-writing Legislature and next governor. And Evers has vetoed all election-related changes passed by Republican legislators.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) reported that Michels wants to replace the WEC with a board made up of members from the state’s eight Congressional districts, five of which are represented by Republicans. The Republican candidate for secretary of state, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, wants that office to have more control over elections.

If re-elected, Evers will “review the Elections Commission request as part of the biennial budget process,” Communications Director Britt Cudaback told WPR.

The governor “welcomes additional efforts to combat Republican misinformation, continue bolstering election security, and ensure every eligible voter can cast their ballot,” Cudaback added.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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