Audit details problems with Wisconsin elections board

Republicans looking to make changes
Audit details problems with Wisconsin elections board

An audit of the Wisconsin Government Accountability board has identified a number of problems with its operations, including not conducting required reviews to identify felons until years after the elections, and not implementing some administrative rules required by state law eight years after they were directed to.

The 93-page audit released by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau Friday made a number of recommendations for changes in procedures for the board that oversees ethics and elections in Wisconsin.

Auditors found that GAB staff did not conduct post-election reviews of clerk’s records to see if people with felony sentences had voted in elections held from February 2010 through April 2014 until July of 2014. Staff did also not complete audits of electronic voting equipment used in November elections held in 2008, 2010 and 2012 until October of 2013.

Issues were also found with the oversight of campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws. Auditors said staff was unable to provide complete information on penalties assessed for violations of campaign contribution limits or lobbying laws, and did not always have written procedures for deciding when to enforce penalties or consider complaints.

The audit report also detailed that seven administrative rules were never put in place some eight years after statutes required them.

“Staff indicated promulgation did not occur, in part, because they were busy with other tasks, such as helping to administer recall elections,” the audit report states.

In response to the audit, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said they welcomed the opportunity for an outside evaluation of its performance.

“LAB found no problems with the GAB.’s financial accounting or spending, and called for no significant changes regarding the core duties and performance of the Board or its staff,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Given the broad scope of the audit we are pleased with the limited exceptions noted in the report. We look forward to implementing the LAB recommendations to improve the agency’s effectiveness.”

The audit comes as Republicans in charge of the Legislature are talking about doing away with the board of retired judges and replacing it with a partisan model.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in October that its director Kevin Kennedy “has to go.”

In a statement Friday morning, Joint Audit Committee co-chair Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, said he was troubled by the audit findings.

“We need to have an agency that voters are confident will administer our election laws effectively. The GAB has simply not performed required duties that they are obligated to do, by law. There needs to be answers for the blatant disregard of state statutes,” Cowles said.

The Government Accountability Board began in 2008 as a replacement for the Elections Board which was widely viewed as ineffective and too partisan.