Kevin Kennedy, the Government Accountability Board Director, gave an interview to the Wheeler Report. He discusses the tumultous year that was 2012 and talks about possible changes to the GAB.
What have been the biggest accomplishments of GAB in the past year?
I would say the ability to manage five statewide elections in a presidential election cycle. All the elections were high visibility and high turnout in a battleground state. We had primaries, elections, recall primaries, and recall elections. We moved our fall primary from September to August. We implemented a lot of changes including a new ballot system for military and overseas which was very successful. The legislature passed eleven new bills that affected elections. There was an incredible amount of work that was completed successfully managed with a lot more scrutiny on the elections.
What have been the biggest difficulties?
Again, the tsunami of a work load. We always expect presidential elections to be bigger but there was a lot with the recalls on top of it. We had committed to a new lobbying website and updating the overseas ballots. There was no down time for our staff. When someone left our agency we didn’t have time to backfill positions. We were always in the public eye. Our staff was very professional. Not everything we did pleased everyone, and in some cases we pleased no one.
What are you looking forward to in 2013?
Expecting legislative interest. We are trying to phase in budgetary requests that will solidify the agency, especially IT projects. We are updating and modernizing the voting system, more work on military ballots. We want to work with local officials to improve communications and smooth out some of the rough changes. We are still waiting on a voter ID court decision and will have to implement what comes. We will deal with what the legislature send us. There is interest (from the legislature) in citizen validation. We’re trying to anticipate what our local officials need.
There has been a lot of publicity about possible changes to your agency, what are your thoughts on changes?
I think first of all Wisconsin has a unique situation with GAB, it is the only institution like it in the country. We removed the partisan politics and put it in the hands of trained people instead of political nominees. We have a one stop place for government accountability, ethics and elections. I’d hate to see any changes, including the quality of the membership of the board. We have trained decision makers who are used to the criticism like judges are. We have a tremendous model, and academics are starting to look at this and are writing very positive things for it. The Board is good for solving solutions. It would be short sighted to move away from this model.
Are there ways your agency could be more efficient or work better?
The main thing is we’ve been operating for the past ten years with increased demands (especially in elections) and increased demands for technology. With respect to lobbying, we’ve always been on the cutting edge. With elections we’ve had to increase and make changes and we’ve had federal money and that will be gone this year. We have thirty people now working on elections, database, replacing equipment, and training people. In our budget we’ve asked to transition those positions from federal funds to state funds. If it’s not addressed this time there will be a deficit.
I come back to the fact that the agency is unique in the country and we’ve always had the staff of the elections board, ethics board, and GAB and have non-partisan overseers. It’s a model for the county and a model that has been challenged over the past two years. Universal praise is not going to happen, but generally the citizens in the state have confidence. The people we have worked with have said the ballot access was easy to navigate and they knew they could come to us with questions.