Testimony of Jay Heck
Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin
Before the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance
April 26, 2023
Lakeland Union High School – Minocqua, WI
(A copy of this testimony was delivered to the Members of the Joint Committee on Finance in advance of the public hearing on the state budget on April 26th.)
Chairs Born, Marklein and Members of the Committee,
I’m Jay Heck, the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) – the state’s largest non-partisan citizen’s political reform advocacy organization with more than 8,000 members and activists in every county and corner in Wisconsin. We are pleased to be able to share our thoughts with the members of the Joint Committee on Finance for your consideration as you construct the 2023-25 biennium budget.
Wisconsinites from across the ideological spectrum should be able to agree that our election process needs to be continually improved and strengthened in order to ensure that all eligible Wisconsinites will be able to participate in and have full confidence in our state’s long tradition of free and fair elections. To that end, the state agency that oversees elections, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) deserves enhanced support to be able to continue to do its critical and vitally important job.
Last Summer, all six WEC Commissioners – Republicans and Democrats – supported a proposal to add ten full time staff members to WEC to handle an increasingly heavy workload, including an exponential increase in public records requests and inquiries about election practices and procedures during the last couple of years. In order for the WEC to be able to function the way the Wisconsin Legislature intended and the voters of Wisconsin have every right to expect it to, additional resources are necessary to meet these demands and for public confidence in our elections to be maintained and enhanced.
Gov. Tony Evers included the WEC funding request in his February budget proposal through the creation of the Office of Election Transparency and Budget within the WEC. The $2 million funding request (over the biennium) would also provide resources to improve audits on voting equipment, databases, and for the possible hiring of an outside consultant to review information for things such as voter lists. The WEC needs the necessary resources to meet the increased demands on their staff and to their workloads so that voters will have confidence in state elections.
CC/WI also strongly supports these other proposals in Gov. Evers’ budget which should be able to receive strong bipartisan support:
- Enabling WEC to be able to reimburse counties and municipalities for costs incurred in the administration of special primary and general elections through a GPR sum sufficient appropriation.
- Explicitly permit WEC training funds to be used to train municipal and county clerks on all aspects of election administration in addition to voter ID requirements.
- Providing $400,000 for municipalities to purchase Badger Books which are an electronic version of the state voter list used to check in voters, process election day voter registrations and record absentee voter participation.
- Modifying voter Identification requirements to comply with current court rulings and requiring the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to issue identification cards that meet the revised requirements.
- Providing $172,700 for the WEC to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to implement automatic voter registration. WisDOT would be appropriated $349,000 in FY2023-24 to address one-time costs. “Red” states such as Georgia and West Virginia as well as our neighboring states of Michigan and Illinois have AVR. It is time Wisconsin voters do too.
All of these measures would help every voter in Wisconsin and merit the support of the members of this committee and of all legislators, regardless of political party affiliation. Our democracy and representative state government can exist only if our election system is free, fair and accessible to all Wisconsinites who are eligible to vote. We hope that the Joint Committee on Finance and the Wisconsin Legislature can set partisan differences aside and work with Gov. Evers to embrace and implement these improvements to our election system in Wisconsin. This state was once considered the model for free and fair elections in the nation. We can begin to move once again towards that exalted status by working together to support these measures.