Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board occupied the hot seat in Madison on Wednesday.
The board oversees elections and the state’s campaign and lobbying laws. Key legislative leaders are considering an overhaul of the board.
A state audit has fueled their resolve. It was the subject of a long public hearing Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Board is officially non-partisan – its six members are retired judges.
Republican Sen. Mary Lazich requested a state audit of the GAB last year, after it frustrated Republicans. For instance, they insisted the board’s new ballot design put their party at a disadvantage, and they were unhappy that the GAB approved an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. Lazich calls the audit findings troubling.
“The lack of information available to the auditors that should have been available is astonishing. The audit is peppered with statements that GAB staff is unable to provide information to the auditors,” Lazich says.
The audit reported cases of the GAB staff taking years to determine whether felons voted and long times to examine voting machines for error rates. Auditors also found that the agency did not have written procedures for dealing with complaints nor did staffers keep track all the complaints received.
The director of the board defended it at Wednesday’s hearing. Kevin Kennedy says the GAB had its hands full.
“Let me remind the committee that the four years covered by the audit report were one of the most politically tumultuous periods in any state capital in America. During this period there were 19 recall elections, one statewide Supreme Court recount, legislative redistricting and related lawsuits, implementing a new voter I.D. Law and defending that law against numerous lawsuits,” Kennedy says.
And Kennedy says that list does not include the job of implementing new federal election laws. He says the GAB had to prioritize its activities.
While Kennedy calls the board a Wisconsin success story, some Republican lawmakers have suggested recreating the GAB. They wonder if it would be more responsive to party concerns, if it consists of both non-partisan and partisan members.