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Delinquent clerks hold up report on election costs

By   /   July 30, 2012  /   Comments Off

By M.D. Kittle and Ryan Ekvall| Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – Dozens of local elections officials have failed to provide cost estimates on two of the more recent state elections, and the Government Accountability Board is tossing out the shame card to motivate the delinquents.

GAB, the state’s election watchdog agency, notes at least 50 municipalities and counties had yet to enter the information, required under state statute, as of Monday — nearly four months after the April presidential preference primary, and nearly three months after the primary elections for this spring’s recall races.

GAB spokesman Reid Magney also told Wisconsin Reporter that 67 municipalities and six counties missed the July 5 deadline to file cost estimates and other information on the June 5 recall elections.

“We have contacted these clerks multiple times, and we still don’t have the information,” Magney said. “This is our attempt to let the media know and the public know that this is still outstanding.”

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, last session’s co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, asked the GAB to account for the costs of the spate of recall elections in Wisconsin’s supercharged political environment.

The agency had never tracked local election costs.

As part of the Wisconsin Elections Data Collection System, Wisconsin’s local elections clerks are asked to provide voter participation statistics, including information on election administration, performance of electronic voting systems and voting machines, and the use of paper ballots.

The system now also requires clerks to provide cost data.

Information for the April 3 presidential primary election was due by May 3, and the deadline for data from the May 8 recall primary was June 7.

Magney said the lapse of reporting, in large part, may be a matter of ignorance of the statute, or difficulty in obtaining information.

“The thing to remember is, in many cases the municipal clerks are part-timers,” Magney said, noting 60 percent of the 1,851 municipal clerks don’t work full-time. “My sense would be that in some of those cases they may be having difficulty in getting a handle on those costs.”

There seems to be some confusion.

“I thought the county was taking care of it,” Karen Zastrow, deputy clerk in Concord, a town in Jefferson County, told Wisconsin Reporter. “We are kind of trying to get that organized. She (a clerk’s assistant in Jefferson County) had told me she was going to take care of it all, but she didn’t.

“I didn’t know about it until I got a notification from GAB that said I was delinquent. I need to get a hold of her and find out exactly what she needs yet. It’s kind of like we’re missing each other,” Zastrow said.

“We’re trying to get a hold of the municipalities,” said Jefferson County Clerk Barbara Frank. “The problem was we didn’t have the costs. We’re working to gather it up. It’s something new and having back to back elections, we were more worried about getting the May and June ballot done than getting the cost of reporting in.”

Frank said she hopes to turn the expenses in to the GAB by the end of the week, but that preparing for August’s primary election takes precedent over the expense reports. With the recall elections, Wisconsin’s clerks have administered an unprecedented number of elections over the past 19 months.

“It’s not really a priority. We need to get the next election done. This isn’t my responsibility; it’s the responsibility of the municipal clerks. They have to provide me with that information and then we’ll just put them in. They’re priority is getting absentee ballots out for the next election.”

A phone call from Wisconsin Reporter alerted another clerk to missing cost figures.

“I didn’t know it was incomplete,” said Diane Beine, clerk of Herman, a rural town in Dodge County. “I can have it done in the next day or so.”

There’s no penalty for not following the statute, although Magney adhering to election law is not optional.

He said the GAB’s goal is 100 percent compliance, noting that GAB could not provide taxpayer costs of the elections until the information is collected.

That’s why GAB is outing the delinquents.

“I think it helps in these situations to apply some public pressure,” Magney said.

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