Outgoing State Elections Director Outlines Next Steps in Transition to New Agencies

Jan 4, 2016

The Government Accountability Board will be dismantled in 2016, and replaced by two new panels
Credit Ann Althouse

Two new groups will begin administering Wisconsin’s elections and ethics laws this new year. 

Gov. Walker recently signed a bill that will dismantle the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board and replace it with two panels of partisan appointees, an elections commission and an ethics panel, by June 30, 2016. Republican leaders insist the Board was not responsive to their concerns.

Outgoing GAB Director Kevin Kennedy says he will assist in the transition.

“The legislation specifically requires that I facilitate the transition to work with the secretary of administration and to be on call to the legislative oversight committees to provide reports on that process," he says. "A lot of the work that will be done is providing recommendations on how to divide personnel, laying out the various back office functions, finance, procurement, budget, IT."

Kennedy says during the six-month transition, it’ll be business as usual for the GAB. For instance, it will still coordinate the spring elections and enforcing Wisconsin’s Voter ID law. People need to present government-issued identification in order to cast a ballot.

“Voter ID has been in place since last April. We’ve used it for several special elections and it will be in place for the February election and all the elections in 2016,” Kennedy says.

He says the board is also continuing to spread the word about Wisconsin’s new campaign finance laws. People can now donate up to $20,000 to candidates and no longer have to identify their employer.

“We’ve given them a summary of all the changes, including new contribution limits, changes to registration and reporting requirements, reached out to all the current registrants to let them know what the criteria is for them.  We want to make sure they understand what the new perimeters are,” Kennedy says.

People probably won’t notice much, he says, until the members of the new boards are named and seated.

“Instead of being non-partisan judges, you can see that one is the speaker’s appointment, one is the minority leader in the assembly’s appointment. There will be a label put on the new commissioners so that in theory, you can judge how they’ve made their decisions, what’s their partisan influence,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy thinks the partisan makeup of the new commissions could lead to stalemates on key decisions. For instance, whether or where candidates should be listed on the ballot or how to address a complaint about campaign finances.