April 19, 2024


Equality opinion

Lawyer Don Millis selected as Wisconsin Elections Commission chair as agency faces GOP hostility | Local Government

The Wisconsin Elections Commission selected Republican attorney Don Millis as its new chair Friday as it prepares for the midterm elections while navigating lawsuits and GOP calls to disband the agency.

Five commissioners voted in favor of Millis becoming chair and one commissioner voted against him. Millis will replace Ann Jacobs, a Democrat. The position switches parties every two years under the commission’s rules.

“I think I have the skills and the temperament to do what’s necessary to make sure changes in election law and administration are rational and will put the people of the state of Wisconsin first,” Millis said Friday.

Millis is set to hold the position heading into the November election, with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on the ballot, as well as in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election. The chair by state law approves the vote canvass following elections and certifies results. The chair also sets the agenda for the commission and can influence how questions are framed.

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The commissioners Friday also rejected Republican Commissioner Robert Spindell’s bid for chair. Spindell faces a lawsuit for being one of 10 Republicans who attempted to cast Electoral College ballots for Donald Trump after the former president lost Wisconsin in 2020.

The commissioners chose Spindell to be their vice-chair. Spindell was the sole vote against Millis’ bid to become chair. Spindell nominated himself to be chair but the motion did not receive a second.

The bipartisan six-member commission includes three Republican appointees and three Democratic appointees.

The commission has been under fire from a growing number of Republicans for how the 2020 election was administered and unfounded claims of widespread fraud.

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GOP gubernatorial candidates Tim Michels, Rebecca Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, of Campbellsport, have all called for the agency’s dismantling.

So has former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, though Gableman praised Millis’ appointment by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. Vos, who hired Gableman to lead a 2020 election review, has been adamantly opposed to eliminating the commission.

Before the vote, Millis said the Elections Commission has been in the spotlight more than it should be and conceded he doesn’t know what the commission’s future looks like.

“I have talked to folks on my side of the aisle and … there’s a difference of opinion,” he said, adding that he supports changing some election laws.

Gableman’s praise for Millis came as the former justice and Vos face a lawsuit for trying to interview Wisconsin Elections Commission officials in private settings. Gableman, in turn, filed a lawsuit threatening to jail Jacobs and staff member Sarah Linske if they don’t comply with a list of demands. He has also issued a subpoena to WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe.

Millis’ selection as chair came two days after he was appointed to replace Republican commissioner Dean Knudson, who unexpectedly resigned in late May following mounting pressure he faced from fellow conservatives angry with him because he said Trump lost to President Joe Biden in 2020.

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A Sun Prairie tax attorney with Reinhart Law Firm, Millis previously served as one of the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s first commissioners after being appointed by former Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in 2016. He resigned from the agency the following year to focus on his law practice.

In 2016, Millis made the motion to approve guidance allowing election officials to correct errors on absentee ballot certificates. The guidance has since come under fire from Republicans, including Trump, who have alleged that the commission violated state law by allowing clerks to fill in missing information.

Court decisions, recounts and multiple reviews have found no evidence of widespread fraud in Wisconsin’s 2020 election.

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