Wis. election officials to wait on lawmaker’s data request

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission agreed Wednesday to postpone its consideration of a massive data request until it is clear whether the Republican chair of the Assembly elections committee who wants the information will be replaced.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who embraced election conspiracy theories as chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, made the request in June. She was expelled from the closed GOP caucus earlier this month because her colleagues didn’t trust her, and she will almost certainly not be renamed chair for the legislative session beginning in January.

Brandtjen asked the election commission to provide her with the statewide voter registration list, which includes contact information submitted by voters, and data documenting changes made to a voter’s status. It was a limited version of an initial request in January that sought 20 years’ worth of documents and voters’ personal identifying information. Democratic Commissioner Ann Jacobs called that request “insane.”

There are approximately 3.5 million registered voters in the state and at least as many inactive voters. Election commission staff estimated that it would take around two weeks to gather the information for the narrowed request, slowing the statewide voter information system and making it more prone to errors throughout the process.

Officials are also concerned about the information remaining secure.

At a July meeting where they first considered the amended request, commissioners voiced concerns that the registration list, which would be provided free of charge, could be improperly used by lawmakers for campaign or personal activities.

Commissioners unanimously voted to pursue an agreement with the committee ensuring that data would only be used for official purposes, but legal counsel for the Legislature opposed the agreement because it could place unnecessary restrictions on its power under state law to request information, staff for the election commission said.

Members of the commission unanimously voted Wednesday to renew discussion with the Legislature once an elections committee chair has been named for the upcoming legislative session, rather than continue trying to reach an agreement now or go ahead with Brandtjen’s request.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has clashed with Brandtjen, is expected to appoint committee chairs sometime in December. He previously indicated that Brandtjen, who endorsed his opponent, would not return as elections committee chair.

“(Vos) threw her out of the caucus. He doesn’t trust her. We shouldn’t,” Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomsen said of Brandtjen. “We should wait until we have new leadership and a new request.”


Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter.

Harm Venhuizen
Harm Venhuizen
Statehouse reporter and Report for America corps member