As you read this, people are coming to grips with the results of our spring election. There are going to be new members of village and county boards as well as a new member of the highest court in our state. There will be some happy people and others who will be disappointed. Wherever we voted and whoever we voted for, everyone who ran and everyone who voted should be proud of playing their part, of exercising a right that so many before us sacrificed for.
I have great memories from my childhood in Cleveland of my Dad taking me with him when he’d cast his ballot. Although I love to go to the polling place on Election Day, my duties in Madison and across the district mean I must vote absentee these days. A friend recently started to complain about the “hoops” that he had to go through in order to vote absentee, but agreed with me when I pointed out that those hoops were a small price to pay for making sure that our votes are counted.
Because we all, no matter what party we belong to, want our votes to count. One of the most consistent things I hear is that people want the legislature to protect their right to vote and to make sure their vote counts the same as every other eligible vote.
This is even more important in the face of existing and new threats to electoral rights across the nation and here at home. I was troubled to come across a recent memo outlining the impact of deep and lasting cuts at the agency charged with carrying out our election laws ranging from government requirements to produce identification cards to protections against foreign hacking.
The state’s Elections Commission, re-formed from the prior Government Accountability Board, goes into the rest of this year’s election cycle with 10 fewer workers – a 28% cut. This means fewer people available to help our local officials protect against fraud, hacking, illegal voting or illegitimate barriers to the ballot.
In tight times, reductions in the state’s workforce make sense, but it is worth pointing out these cuts at the Elections Commission aren’t part of a rational plan to reduce the size of all state agencies.
Take, for example, the state’s Department of Administration (DOA), created in 1959 to consolidate administrative functions at the state level. Despite deep and lasting cuts elsewhere, and the fact that it duplicates administrative divisions that exist in every state department, the Department of Administration has seen a nearly 50% increase in staff, adding 461 employees since Gov. Walker took office.
With a full slate of elections this fall, we are fortunate to have dedicated professionals and volunteers at the local level. I was happy to work with them to increase the local volunteer force available to help with the vote by passing a bill restoring the long-standing practice of allowing local officials to work at the polls if they aren’t on the ballot.
We need to stop putting politics ahead of voting rights and we need to stop making agencies like the Department of Administration a (much) higher priority than the men and women our local officials rely on to protect our votes.