Legislator voices concern about state elections board

Vos believes GAB is no longer nonpartisan
Legislator voices concern about state elections board
Robin Vos

Big changes could be coming to Wisconsin’s election officials after a key figure in the state Legislature voiced concerns Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Board, a nonpartisan state agency that’s charged with handling Wisconsin’s elections, is facing criticism from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Vos said the board is no longer non-partisan.

In 2008 both Democrats and Republicans supported the newly-created GAB as it began operations. The board was built to replace the decades-old State Elections Board, a commission comprised of partisan members who were largely chosen by political parties.

“It was clearly under the influence of the two political parties,” said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “So whichever party had more influence in government was likely to appoint members to that board.”

At the time the idea was to create a board with six nonpartisan former judges who would undergo a multistage vetting process and would ultimately need to be approved by a super-majority of the Senate.

“This is supposed to insulate the board somewhat from political party influence and create higher quality decisions,” Burden said.

Fast forward a few years, and not everyone is still a fan of the organization.

“I think there’s a lot of problems with the GAB and the way they operate, so I think (we need to take) a complete look at it to try and make sure we have a process that’s fair to both Democrats and Republicans,” Vos said on Tuesday.

Vos said a handful of issues have led him to believe the board is partisan. One of those issues, the controversial GAB ballot redesign, is a concern he blames squarely on Director Kevin Kennedy.

“That falls solely on him,” Vos said. “He should be embarrassed by that, and he chooses to deflect that like we’re on some partisan witch hunt.”

News 3 asked the GAB and Kennedy for a response to Vos’s concerns, but officials there said they would not comment at this time.

Experts said Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t allow partisan officials to run elections, but Vos said that’s not necessarily true anymore.

“I voted for the original GAB, I thought it was a better process than the one we had before, but I’m also not arrogant enough to believe we can’t make changes to make it even better,” Vos said.

Burden said it’s not the first time a political party has taken issue with the GAB, and it likely won’t be the last.

“There have been lots of complaints. The complaints come from both parties, which tells me the board’s probably doing something right,” Burden said.