Wisconsin Elections Commission seeking staff for security

Voters cast their ballots at the Oshkosh Town Hall in Winnebago County Nov. 8, 2016. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

MADISON (AP) -- The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted Monday to seek three additional staffers, after Gov. Scott Walker eliminated five positions with a veto in September.

The commission voted unanimously to try to get authorization from the Legislature to hire the workers, including two who would focus on bolstering security protections. The positions are critical as the commission works to implement a new security plan in the wake of news that Russian hackers targeted the state's election system in 2016 but did not infiltrate them, said board chairman Mark Thomsen.

"I don't think this agency can do it without these additional positions," Thomsen said. "I think it's completely not enough."

Elections administrator Michael Haas said the positions could be paid for with existing state and federal funds, but the Legislature's approval would likely be necessary. He made the argument the jobs were critical and the bare minimum the commission needed to property run elections in Wisconsin, especially given that staff size has been cut 28 percent since 2015.

"We are falling behind in some of our normal or traditional tasks even outside of election security," Haas said.

The Legislature approved adding five positions in the state budget that passed in September, but Walker eliminated the positions with his veto. If a bill is required to hire the three staff approved Monday, it would require Walker to sign off. His spokesman, Tom Evenson, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Two of the staff the commission wants to hire would be focused on election security issues. The third would work on educating voters about such things as Wisconsin's voter identification requirement.

Walker, when he vetoed the five positions, encouraged the commission to make greater use of temporary staff and contracted services. But commissioners said Monday it wasn't realistic to count on temporary staff to do the same quality of work that full-time workers well-versed with the state's election law would provide.

People contacting the commission "need an expert on this end of the phone and I don't think you can call someone in two weeks of the year and expect them to be that person," said commissioner Jodi Jensen.

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