MADISON, Wis. – The Republican leader of Wisconsin’s Senate said Wednesday he opposes “blowing up” the bipartisan commission he helped create to hold an election in the battleground state.
But Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said changes to the Wisconsin Elections Commission were needed in response to a nonpartisan audit. This audit recommended 48 legislative and administrative changes, many of which the commission is working to enact.
Other Republicans called on the six current election commissioners to step down and on the legislature to consider more aggressive changes to weaken or dissolve the commission and empower the legislature.
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LeMahieu, who helped found the commission in 2015 when he was chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, said he favored a more measured approach.
“We could maybe polish it up,” LeMahieu said in an interview.
“Yes, I’m frustrated with some of the things the commission has done over the past two years, but that doesn’t mean blowing it up is the right thing to do unless you know what the alternative is.”
Republicans have been calling for change since President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, a result that has withstood recounts and numerous lawsuits. An Associated Press review of battleground states challenged by Trump, including Wisconsin, found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.
Any changes the Republican-controlled Legislature wants to make to the commission this year would need to be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He has previously vetoed bills that would make absentee voting more difficult and vowed to reject attempts to change the current system, including giving the Legislature the power to hold elections.
There is also pressure to transfer more power to run elections to the secretary of state, who has not had those responsibilities for more than 40 years, and to pass a constitutional amendment to make changes to election law. An amendment would require voter approval and could not be vetoed by the governor.
LeMahieu said the constitutional amendment was “an idea to consider” and something Republican senators would discuss.
The amendment, backed by the conservative group Common Sense Wisconsin, would require elections to be conducted the same way across Wisconsin; early voting times and days would be the same in all communities, and some would have to change how they count mail-in ballots. The measure is widely seen as an attempt to force Democratic towns across the state to restrict access.
Evers opposes the amendment and the empowerment of the Secretary of State to hold elections. Evers is making his defense of the current electoral system a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, arguing that his veto power is the only thing keeping Republicans from better controlling the conduct of the election.
When asked if he supported the Legislative Assembly taking over the management of elections, LeMahieu called it an “obscure question.”
He said the legislature, under the establishment of the electoral commission, oversees the elections, but he was reluctant to take a more direct role.
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“We created the electoral commission and I don’t think I can go in there and check the nomination signatures of different people,” LeMahieu said. “I think it’s important to have election officials in place to lead the process.”
He also said he opposes criminal charges against the members of the Elections Commission, as requested by the Trump-supporting Racine County Sheriff, because of the advice they gave to the homes of retirement during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“I’m not a district attorney, or an attorney in any form, so I think it might be going a bit too far to charge them with a crime,” LeMahieu said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the commissioners should “probably” face criminal charges.