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COUNTY BOARD COMMITTEE

WATCH NOW: Kenosha County committee unanimously favors ban on non-governmental funds for administering elections

A Kenosha County Board committee does not want outside private money being accepted to administer countywide elections.

The Finance and Administration Committee voted 7-0 on Thursday to approve a resolution to prohibit the county from accepting non-government entities grants or funding intended for such use.

The resolution was authored by newly elected County Board Supervisor Brian Thomas.

“The premise of the resolution is based on the private money that … (had) gone through not-for-profits to give to different cities … primarily within the state of Wisconsin – Kenosha, Racine, Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay – in different amounts,” Thomas said.

The City of Kenosha, for example, received more than $800,000 to “follow a contract that they all had to sign,” said Thomas, who was referring to the “Get Out the Vote” campaign from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed about $8.8 million – financed by Facebook, now Meta, mogul Mark Zuckerberg.

“As a county, we don’t hold any elections. But we support the elections in this county and so, it’s more of a symbolic thing that the election process and election money has been done through county funds or state funds or federal funds, for as long as there’s been elections,” he said. “I think it casts a shadow on some of the processes that were implemented during this last election that were beyond our state statues. And, I don’t think that would be something that we would want to have to deal with going forward.”

County Clerk Regi Waligora took issue with the wording of the resolution, which she said appeared to cast aspersions on her office. The resolution indicates that taxpayer-supported elected officials, who are also county employees, cannot legally hold voter campaigns.

“The County Clerk’s office has not, does not and historically has not conducted or participated in any get-out-the-vote campaigns,” she said. “Since this is a county resolution, this paragraph implies that county elected officials have conducted GOTV campaigns, which is not true for Kenosha County and therefore that should be removed.”

The resolution also indicates citizens are concerned that county election officials “might knowingly or unknowingly” accept such private or corporate funds from organizations, such as, the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

“This statement implies improper action on the part of an elected official or the county and that it should be clarified there’s a process in place for accepting grant and donation funds, which is outlined in the municipal code ordinance 211,” Waligora noted. “Before any grant or donation funds can be spent a resolution needs to be brought before the Finance Committee for authorization to modify the budget. If it is approved by finance, then it would go to the County Board to be voted on. And, the bottom line is the board has the final say.”

She also asked that last line of the resolution be removed because it erroneously included that the county, through the clerk’s office, collected ballots and voter registrations.

“It is an incorrect statement. The receipt of ballots and voter registrations is a function of the municipal clerk and it is not a function of the chief elections officer, the county clerk,” she said.

Supervisor Erin Decker said she did not think the first two statements which Waligora objected to implied any wrongdoing by the clerk. Rather, they were stating facts, according to Decker. She agreed, however, that the last line in the resolution should be removed because “that is not the job of Kenosha County elected officials.”

“That is an action and I think we should keep our actions to what Kenosha County can actually do,” she said.

The line was omitted by committee vote.

Supervisor Bill Grady said he supported the resolution and thanked Thomas for bringing it forward. Grady, however, said he wanted the resolution to reflect the county clerk’s earlier statements that, furthermore, assert that her office had not applied for, received or spent any funding from a non-governmental entity for political elections administered by the county.

The new language was later added to the resolution and approved by the committee before it approved the resolution unanimously.

Kenosha County is not alone in considering passing a policy refusing non-governmental funding for elections. Walworth County was the first in the state to ban the use of private funding to administer elections when that board passed its policy in April.

In recent months, judges have rejected court challenges by conservative groups that assert that the use of the private money intended for administering elections was a violation of the law. Last year, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed legislation passed by Republicans that would’ve banned the use of such private donations to run elections.

The resolution next heads to the County Board on Tuesday for a first reading before supervisors vote on it next month.

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