Assembly bill would move electoral commission from Wisconsin to Wausau
A new state assembly bill proposes to move the Wisconsin Election Commission from Madison to Wausau.
Representative Steffen, R-Green Bay, one of the eight sponsors of Assembly Bill 511, testified before the Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight in a public hearing on Wednesday.
“By having (the offices of the Election Commission) located in the center of the state, we can guarantee access to all candidates,” said Representative Steffen. âThis will save Wisconsin state taxpayers over $ 100,000 each year. And it also provides an opportunity to take that very first step, attempted for over a decade, to bring our government a little closer to the state of the people. “
The Election Commission is one of more than 60 state agencies and commissions. Under current state law, all boards must be located in Madison.
Some of these organizations, including the Election Commission, rent offices in the city.
According to a study by Representative Wittke, R-Racine, the Election Commission pays $ 250,000 per year to lease 11,500 square feet at 212 E. Washington Ave. in Madison, privately owned. Sponsors of the bill argue that moving offices to Wausau, where rents are cheaper, would save taxpayers’ money.
In addition to the cost savings, Representative Steffen said the move to Wausau would benefit elected officials on both sides of the aisle. At election time, all elected officials must submit their nomination papers in person to the Election Commission. Moving the offices closer to the state’s geographic center would make things easier, said Representative Steffen.
But it is not that simple.
While Wausau may represent the geographic center of the state, the majority of the state’s population and the assembly districts are concentrated in the southeast.
âIt concerns me to move it away from our population centers in the southeast corner of the state,â said Emerson Representative D-Eau Claire. “I have a feeling that would make it a bit more inaccessible for some people to file documents to run for office.”
It was a concern shared by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the only opposition to Wednesday’s hearing.
âThey just pulled Wausau out of a hat,â group executive director Matt Rothschild said after the hearing. “There’s a reason the boards and agencies are located in Madison, because that’s where the state government is. It’s the natural logical place for things to be housed.”
The bill was well received by the committee, but President Knodle, R-Germantown, is also a sponsor of the bill. Additional sponsors, all Republican, include: Rep. Ramthun, R-Campbellsport; Representative Armstrong, R-Rice Lake; Representative Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton; Rep. Moses, R-Menomonie; Representative Rozar, R-Marshfield and Representative Tusler, R-Harrison.
âIt just feels like another Republican stunt to me, another distraction from the real issues that people want the legislature to deal with here in Wisconsin,â Rothschild said.
There is precedent for at least exploring the possibility of moving commissions around the state, Rep. Steffen said. In the past, there have been proposals to move the Department of Natural Resources north of Highway 29 and the Department of Tourism to Wisconsin Dells. But none succeeded.
And while there are satellite or regional offices for some agencies scattered across the state, most still have their administrative headquarters in Madison.
If Assembly Bill 511 is passed, the Election Commission offices will move to Wausau by April 15, 2024. But the bill is still only at the start of the legislative process. The authors are currently seeking a Senate sponsor. And even with the support of Republicans in both houses, the bill would have to survive a veto by Gov. Tony Evers to pass.
And following a global pandemic with the end of federal unemployment benefits, it’s not exactly a pressing issue for Wisconsinians right now, opponents say.
âThe people of Wisconsin don’t care where the Wisconsin Election Commission is,â Rothschild said. “They care about good jobs, health care, funding their public schools, making sure their broadband works. No one has called for this change.”