In the Documents: Partisan Communications Between Wisconsin Elections Commission Members and State Lawmakers

Wisconsin’s April 7 primary election made headlines when, despite federal health guidelines advising against gatherings of any kind, voters were forced to wait for hours in long lines. Less than a day before the polls opened, the state supreme court voted to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ postponement of the election and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a district court opinion that gave voters more time to mail in ballots. 

Forcing an in-person election was widely condemned as an attempt to suppress voter turnout, another move in a long line of voter-suppression tactics that Wisconsin voters have had to endure. Last year, a right-leaning law firm in Wisconsin filed a lawsuit to have more than 230,000 voters removed from the state’s voter rolls because those voters had not responded to a “mover mailer” that asked them to update their voter information. Analysis by the Guardian found that “voters in zip codes that were predominantly black or heavily populated by students were nearly twice as likely to be flagged for removal.”

While these voters were ultimately allowed to remain registered for the April primary, American Oversight’s investigation into this purge has uncovered troubling behind-the-scenes communications that reveal between members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) and state lawmakers. 

December 2019 emails of WEC Commissioner Dean Knudson and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos include a proposal to purge voters from the rolls more regularly. In one memo, Knudson recommended that Vos introduce legislation that would strengthen the WEC’s authority to purge voters. The proposed bills would mandate that the commission send out mover mailers every year, as opposed to every four years. The commission would also rely on lists of duplicate names from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit, independent voter roll administrator, to make purges, even over objections from local election clerks. Another email shows Knudson contacting a Republican campaign official who used to work for Vos regarding a potential ethics violation of a Democrat running for a State assembly seat.

“Dean Knudson is there because Republicans trust him to toe their party line,” said Mike Browne, deputy director of One Wisconsin Now, a progressive watchdog group. “And that is exactly what he’s doing — advocating for more voter roll purges and pushing an alleged ethical violation by a Democratic Assembly candidate to the attention of the Republicans who run their campaigns.”

Knudson is not the only WEC commissioner who has attempted to coordinate with state legislators. Emails and texts from the office of Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reveal that Commissioner Robert Spindell — who falsely argued that the purge list contained names of voters who had died — shared recommendations with Fitzgerald related to the WEC’s operations. While they address administrative issues, the messages, along with Knudson’s, point to potential coordination between the WEC and state legislators — a troubling, if not surprising, issue given the commission’s purposefully bipartisan split in member appointments so as not to become a partisan weapon. 

Additionally, the records we obtained showed some discrepancies between what the different legislative offices provided in response to our requests. We submitted nearly identical records requests to both Vos’ and Fitzgerald’s offices for communications with representatives of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), the law firm that brought the voter-purge complaint to court. Vos’ office responded with 239 pages of emails spanning June 2019 to January 2020, including mass email blasts and letters from WILL to the Assembly. But Fitzgerald’s office produced only three pages, containing two December 2019 emails from WILL’s executive vice president. In comparison with the high-volume production from Vos’s office, the response from Fitzgerald’s office raises questions about whether the majority leader’s office was sufficiently forthcoming.

Voter suppression takes many forms, from voter purges and strict voter-ID laws to polling place closures and strict limits on absentee voting, a threat that takes on added significance as the nation continues to fight a deadly pandemic. Wisconsin’s conservative legislators seem intent on restricting voting access, pulling out all the stops to make it a burden for Wisconsinites to vote. American Oversight will continue to investigate every obstacle that impedes the vote, in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

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March 6, 2020

News Roundup: Rising Coronavirus Fears and Sinking Public Trust

Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, DHS - Federal Emergency Management Agency, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, DOI - Bureau of Land Management, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Federal Reserve, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Driver Services, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Administration for Children and Families, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS - Food and Drug Administration, HHS - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, HHS - National Institutes of Health, Texas - Briscoe County, Texas - Freestone County, Texas - Hall County, Texas - Hill County, Texas - Hood County, Texas - Jones County, Texas - Kendall County, Texas - Lavaca County, Texas - Leon County, Texas - Limestone County, Texas - Loving County, Texas - Morris County, Texas - Scurry County, Texas - Starr County, Texas - Swisher County, Texas - Victoria County, Texas Secretary of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, VA - Veterans Health Administration, Washington - King County, Washington State Department of Health, White House - Office of Management and Budget, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
February 14, 2020

News Roundup: Trump Has Learned His ‘Lesson’

Central Intelligence Agency, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, Federal Reserve, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Kentucky Office of the Governor, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Wisconsin Senate, Wisconsin State Assembly
February 7, 2020

News Roundup: Acquittal Isn’t the End

Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of State, Florida Department of State, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia Secretary of State, White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 31, 2020

News Roundup: Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, DOJ - Executive Office for Immigration Review, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Texas - Harris County, Texas Office of the Governor
January 24, 2020

News Roundup: Evidence of Obstruction

Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of Transportation, DOT - Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Georgia - Clayton County, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Attorney General, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Texas Senate, White House - Office of Management and Budget
January 17, 2020

News Roundup: The Evidence Continues to Mount

Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia - Clayton County, Georgia - Hancock County, Georgia - Jefferson County, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services
January 10, 2020

News Roundup: Presidential War Powers and New Impeachment Documents

Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Florida - Hernando County, Florida - Nassau County, Florida - Okaloosa County, Florida - Seminole County, Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Department of State, Florida Office of the Governor, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, White House - Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
December 27, 2019

American Oversight’s 2019 in Review: Nine Important Stories We Uncovered

December 23, 2019

American Oversight’s Investigation into the Restoration of Voting Rights in Florida

Florida - Broward County, Florida - Collier County, Florida - Duval County, Florida - Gadsden County, Florida - Hardee Count, Florida - Hendry County, Florida - Hillsborough County, Florida - Leon County, Florida - Miami-Dade County, Florida - Monroe County, Florida - Palm Beach County, Florida - Taylor County, Florida - Washington County, Florida Attorney General, Florida Department of State, Florida House of Representatives, Florida Office of the Governor, Florida Senate
December 23, 2019

An Update on Our Investigation into Georgia’s Election System and Voter-Roll Purges

Georgia - Bartow County, Georgia - Carroll County, Georgia - Catoosa County, Georgia - Clayton County, Georgia - Cobb County, Georgia - Decatur County, Georgia - DeKalb County, Georgia - Dougherty County, Georgia - Fulton County, Georgia - Gwinnett County, Georgia - Hancock County, Georgia - Jefferson County, Georgia - Lowndes County, Georgia - Macon-Bibb County, Georgia - Paulding County, Georgia - Randolph County, Georgia - Rockdale County, Georgia Department of Driver Services, Georgia Office of the Governor, Georgia Secretary of State
December 23, 2019

Texas Officials’ Communications with ‘Voter Fraud’ Activists

Texas - Cameron County, Texas - Dallas County, Texas - Harris County, Texas - Hidalgo County, Texas - Starr County, Texas - Tarrant County, Texas - Travis County, Texas - Zavala County, Texas Attorney General, Texas House of Representatives, Texas Office of the Governor, Texas Secretary of State, Texas Senate
December 13, 2019

News Roundup: Stephen Miller’s Extremist Network

Congress, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOI - Bureau of Land Management, DOI - Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia - Carroll County, Texas Attorney General, Treasury - Office of Foreign Assets Control, White House - Office of Management and Budget
December 6, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Report, Border Wall Contracts, and Pompeo’s Meeting with GOP Donors

Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State
November 27, 2019

News Roundup: Thankful for FOIA

Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Kentucky Office of the Governor, USDA - Food Safety and Inspection Service
November 19, 2019

Former DOJ Civil Rights Official Acknowledges He Made Incorrect Statement in Sworn Declaration

Department of Justice
November 15, 2019

News Roundup: Impeachment Inquiry Goes Public

Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Veterans Affairs, Florida House of Representatives, Georgia - Bartow County, Georgia - Carroll County, Georgia - Decatur County, Georgia - Lowndes County, Georgia - Paulding County, Georgia Secretary of State, HHS - Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, Texas - Dallas County, Texas - Harris County, Texas - Travis County, White House - Council on Environmental Quality
October 4, 2019

Former Top Civil Rights Official John Gore Made Misleading Statements in Declaration to Federal Court

Department of Justice
September 18, 2019

In the Documents: Texas Elections Officials’ Close Ties to ‘Voter Fraud’ Activists

Texas - Starr County, Texas Attorney General, Texas Secretary of State