MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin's Republican secretary of state hopeful wants lawmakers to hand the office control over elections, but she won't say how much authority she wants or whether her duties should include unilaterally certifying presidential winners in the key battleground state.
Amy Loudenbeck, a state representative from south-central Wisconsin, wants to unseat long-time Democratic incumbent Doug La Follette in November. The Legislature has spent the last few decades stripping La Follette of almost all his responsibilities. Loudenbeck wants to restore some of them, including taking over election oversight from a bipartisan commission.
Republicans who control Wisconsin's Legislature passed bills this year making it more difficult to vote absentee and imposing restrictions on election administration, only to have Democratic Gov. Tony Evers veto them. In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Loudenbeck repeatedly declined to explain how much control over elections she wants or how she thinks elections should be administered, saying Republicans who control the Legislature would decide what responsibilities to give her.
"This isn't a power grab," Loudenbeck said. "The Legislature should explore a wide range of policy options to utilize this constitutional office that is directly accountable to voters and look at what other states are doing and talk about restoring some traditional responsibilities, including election oversight, if appropriate, to the office."
La Follette, the secretary of state since 1983, said Loudenbeck is "trying to be cleverly vague."
Secretary of State Doug La Follette
"I'd call it very politically motivated as to what she'd really do," he said. "She's trying to avoid facing her true positions on issues. I'm worried what they really are."
La Follette does not support giving control over elections to the secretary of state and is campaigning on keeping his office's responsibilities unchanged. All he does is issue travel documents and serve on a timber board.
The secretary of state is the chief elections official in 38 states, according to the National Association of State Election Directors. Elections oversight in Wisconsin falls to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a panel of three Democrats and three Republicans created by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2016.
The commission frequently deadlocks and has taken intense criticism from Republicans who want to replace it, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.
Former President Donald Trump has turned his eye toward secretary of state offices as he considers a 2024 presidential run. Trump called Georgia's GOP secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, in 2020 asking him to "find" enough votes to overturn Trump's loss to Joe Biden in that state. Raffensperger refused. He withstood a Trump-backed challenger in his primary this year, but Trump-endorsed secretary of state candidates won primaries in the key swing states of Arizona and Michigan.
Trump narrowly lost Wisconsin to Biden by about 21,000 votes in 2020. Trump continues to call for decertifying his loss, falsely claiming that election fraud cost him the state even though multiple reviews and recounts have confirmed Biden's victory. Republican legislative leaders have refused to attempt to decertify his loss, a move that several attorneys and legal experts have dismissed as unconstitutional and impossible.
Loudenbeck has been vague about whether she believes Biden is the legitimate president, saying only that the U.S. Senate certified the election results and Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2021. She also has been vague about her views on election fraud, telling AP that questions about the election must be answered and that the government has an obligation to ensure the elections system is secure. She conceded that decertifying Biden's victory "is not an option."
Democrats fear that if Loudenbeck becomes secretary of state in Wisconsin she would certify that Trump or another Republican candidate has won the state in 2024, regardless of the actual result. She told the AP she would reject a call from Trump or any other Republican candidate asking her to tip the scales in the GOP’s favor.
"If clerks and all the poll workers are following the law, there shouldn’t be any question at the end," she said. "If people think that individuals were illegally casting ballots, then they should go to their sheriff or their (district attorney) or their clerk and figure that out. You can’t just find more ballots."
A lot would have to happen before Loudenbeck would find herself in position to affect the outcome of an election.
She would have to defeat La Follette, who crushed his Democratic primary opponent despite spending almost no money on the race and taking an African safari in the middle of the campaign.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would have to allow GOP lawmakers to shift considerable election duties to Loudenbeck. Vos has said he supports the commission and opposes giving the secretary of state election powers.
And Michels would have to defeat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, putting himself in position to sign oversight legislation into law. Michels has said he wants to revamp the elections commission with members from the state's eight congressional districts.
Loudenbeck said she would try to persuade Vos to give the office election responsibilities — even though she wouldn't say what they should be — by convincing him that the election commission is a "failed experiment" and an elected official accountable to the people should run the polls.