Enough resources to get job done

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Knowing election integrity is an international issue, make sure Wisconsin is staffed up.

A CYNIC MIGHT find what looks suspiciously like a pattern in the ongoing disregard for elections integrity in Wisconsin.

A little history may be helpful. For many years the state had a toothless tiger to oversee elections, attached by a tight leash to partisan leadership in the legislature. After a scandal involving legislative leaders using public employees for political purposes resulted in criminal charges and a shake-up at the Capitol, a large bipartisan majority chose a different direction, creating the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board to oversee elections and ethics. The GAB was governed by an independent board of retired judges.

Then came Act 10. Then came a spate of recalls against Gov. Scott Walker and others. Then came the John Doe investigations. Then came the demise of the independent GAB.

MANY OF THE SAME legislators now leading the Republican majority earlier had voted to create the GAB. But the plan adopted on a partisan vote last year scrapped the GAB to return to a party-controlled process. Two bodies replaced the GAB - the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. Their governing boards are partisan appointees beholden to elected officials.

Apparently, that's not enough. The plan is to starve the agencies of resources to the point of inactivity if not incompetence.

Case in point: The elections commission, after a few months' experience, determined it did not have enough people to do the job. The commission asked for five new employees and the legislature agreed.

Walker, though, eliminated the positions with a line-item veto. If the commission needed more help, Walker suggested hiring seasonal temporary help or contracting out for services.

"I DON'T THINK this agency can do it without these additional positions," commission chair Mark Thomsen said in response. "I think it's completely not enough."

As for temp help or vendors, commissioner Jodi Jensen told the Associated Press people in need of information or services "need an expert on this end of the phone, and I don't think you can call someone in two weeks of the year and expect them to be that person."

And let's keep this in mind. It is well established by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers attacked the American election system in 2016, including specifically targeting individual states. Call us crazy, but that suggests this is a poor time to deprive election officials of adequate resources.

Commission officials are returning to the legislature in search of three employees, obviously hoping to split the difference. The question, of course, is whether legislators opening will butt heads with their governor in an election year.

They should. The GAB never should have been dissolved and replaced with this weak arrangement. But it was, and state officials at least ought to make sure the resources are there for the job.

A FINAL WORD: And that word today is "independent." Clearly, it's not part of state leaders' vocabulary. An independent elections and ethics watchdog was given the death penalty. Now there are calls for the legislature to hold hearings on proposals to create an independent nonpartisan process ahead of the 2020 census and redistricting. Fat chance. Do not be fooled. Those in power will not voluntarily see it jeopardized. Fair redistricting depends solely on the case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices should take a firm stand for fairness.

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