Wisconsin election commissioners balk at GOP data request
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission balked Tuesday at a massive request for voter data and other information by six Republican state lawmakers but did not order the request —deemed “insane” by one commissioner — be denied.
Instead, the commission said the lawmakers should be told how much it would cost, how long it would take, and what information can’t be provided. Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top elections official, told commissioners it was “the most broad request we’ve ever seen.”
Democratic commissioners said the Dec. 22 request was designed to grind operations at the elections commission to a halt, and frustrate and overwhelm those who work for the nonpartisan agency that is overseen by a bipartisan board.
The request came from Rep. Janel Brandtjen, chair of the Assembly elections committee, and five other Republicans. They have been leading voices in questioning President Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin, pushing conspiracy theories about the election and how it was run in the state. Some Republicans have even called for members of the commission to resign and be charged with felonies.
Brandtjen said in a statement that the request pertains to the “who, what, where and when” of Wisconsin’s election databases and voter rolls. Some of the information requested included 20 years’ worth of technology agreements and bid documents; details of where the servers that hold voter identification data are housed; and records of any changes to addresses, names or voting status for more than 7 million current and former residents of Wisconsin.
“We cannot let requests undermine your ability to oversee the 2022 election,” Democratic commissioner Mark Thomsen said. He called the request “overbroad and unreasonable” and an attempt to “shut us down.”
Republican commissioner Dean Knudson called it “the broadest records request I’ve ever seen or heard of.”
Wolfe said records requested that are available within the commission’s current system can be located and provided, but those that go back farther into agencies that have now been disbanded and are on technology that is no longer used will take longer to find, if they exist at all.
The information requested could amount to “hundreds of millions if not billions of data points” that would require the elections commission computer servers to take days, if not weeks, to generate, Wolfe said. It would also include a bevy of personal information such as birthdates and social security numbers that can’t be released under state or federal law, Wolfe said.
“They’re asking for illegal stuff,” Thomsen said. “Let them go get a judge to order us to produce it. I don’t see that happening.”
Wolfe said it would not be appropriate to waive the estimated $100,000 in costs associated with finding the requested records because of the hundreds of hours it would likely take. Typically, the agency does not charge for locating records, she said.
“We have an absolutely insane request from the Legislature,” said commission chair Ann Jacobs, a Democrat. “It’s a ridiculous request and we need to be able to let them tell us what they actually want because we can’t give them what they’re asking for.”