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Future of Wisconsin Election Commission remains unclear as new chair is about to be selected

Newspaper headlines of 2020's Presidential race
JJ Gouin
Adobe Stock
Newspaper headlines from the 2020 presidential election.

The Wisconsin Election Commission has been in the spotlight since the 2020 election. Unsubstantiated claims of election fraud have pitted many Republican politicians against the commission, despite the fact the election commission was created by former Republican Governor Scott Walker to ensure that both major parties would have equal representation in the process.

The commission postponed selecting its new chairperson when Republican commissioner Dean Knudson resigned late last month — citing Republican’s deep desire that he step down in light of Knudson’s assertions that widespread voter fraud didn’t occur in Wisconsin during the 2020 presidential election. Now, Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has appointed a new Republican member to replace Knudson — attorney Don Millis.

"[Don Millis is] a former member of the commission and a former member of the body that preceded the commission, so he has a history and some expertise," says Barry Burden, a professor of political science at UW-Madison and director of the Elections Research Center. "He was well received by former Governor Tommy Thompson, who actually appointed him initially to serve on the state board. There were even positive things said about him by Ann Jacobs, who's the current Democratic chair of the commission."

The next chairperson of the commission will be a Republican and will certify the 2022 midterm election and 2024 presidential election. It's likely to be either Millis or Robert Spindell, who attempted to cast Electoral College ballots for President Donald Trump during the 2020 election and has been a strong supporter of the GOP investigation into the election.

Burden says Millis appears ready to go in terms of his understanding of the law and his experience with administrating elections in Wisconsin. As for Spindell, Burden says it's of serious concern that he could be the one in charge of certifying the election, given his involvement with the attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Burden says to have an election commissioner, and potentially a chair, telling the public that the election was fraudulent and shouldn't be trusted is an amazing contradiction.

"We don't know what would happen if the chair refused to certify those results, for example. That's something I hope, if nothing else, lawmakers would try to clean up if they're going to deal with the election administration in a serious way, but at the moment, I think there's some looseness and all of that," he says.

Meanwhile, Burden says the future of the commission looks uncertain. "It probably depends on who's elected governor this fall and and how far Republicans want to go with their grievances about it."

It's not clear what kind of agency would be satisfactory for Republicans at this point, he notes.

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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