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Don't let GAB change disrupt elections

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We’ve heard from the politicians in Madison — both Republican and Democrat — about the bill to abolish Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board and turn the administration of elections and ethical disputes back into a partisan plaything for whichever party happens to be in the majority.

And we’ve offered our opinion that interjecting politics into the principle of government accountability is a horrible idea.

As the debate roars toward a vote in Madison, the editorial board of the La Crosse Tribune heard last week from another group with a stake in the matter — the county, city and town clerks in the Coulee Region who are charged with administering elections with impartiality, professionalism and integrity.

The consensus: Timing is everything — and changing the rules just a few months before Wisconsin’s primary election next fall will cause chaos and confusion.

The timing of that change will not serve democracy.

If the GAB, as proposed, would be abolished by the end of June 2016, that gives fewer than 45 days to develop the ballot for the most complicated of all — the primary ballot during a presidential election year.

“We can’t afford interruptions,” said Ginny Dankmeyer, La Crosse County clerk. “The GAB is our lifeline during elections.”

On Election Day and the day before, area clerks say the GAB provides quick, professional information that helps settle election problems and disputes on a most stressful day.

The help from GAB isn’t limited to office hours. The GAB extends hours to provide assistance before the polls open and often until after midnight in case there’s a problem with the voting system and time is crucial.

We understand that some Republicans in Wisconsin dislike GAB Director Kevin Kennedy. But that dislike doesn’t really take into account some of the functions that he and his office provide to local clerks.

Kennedy himself has returned calls to our local clerks to provide expertise and assistance.

If the computerized election system were turned over to the state Department of Administration, for instance, would DOA provide the same level of service to make sure elections are run in a precise, accurate fashion? Who knows?

Clerks in the La Crosse area and throughout the state say the supporters of the legislation don’t wish to hear the practical reasons for making changes.

Marilyn Pedretti, clerk for the Town of Holland, says: “Don’t penalize the clerks — the people who want to run good elections.”

Pedretti, Dankmeyer and Clerks Cari Burmaster from the city of Onalaska and Melissa Erdman from the town of Onalaska told the Tribune editorial board that making constant changes in election rules makes it much more difficult to recruit and train election judges.

As with every issue, there are political arguments on both sides. But election clerks in our area make a very compelling case about the practicality of making sweeping changes right before the primary during a presidential year.

If the politicians are intent on making the change, they’ll make it.

But there’s no reason to make the timing of the change punitive for election clerks and potentially damaging for voters.

— La Crosse Tribune


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