Graceful Exit: Mike Haas to Step Down as Wisconsin Election Director

[Image via elections.wi.gov]

Wisconsin state election director Mike Haas stepped down from his post yesterday, seeking to help the state election commission get on a normal footing for the 2018 elections and put an end to a partisan dispute with the state legislature about the agency’s leadership. Madison.com has more:

The state’s top elections official, Michael Haas, says he won’t continue in that role, ending a showdown between the bipartisan state Elections Commission, which backed Haas, and state Senate Republicans who demanded his ouster.

Haas, in a statement Tuesday, said he plans to keep working temporarily at the commission as an attorney, but intends to eventually leave to pursue other opportunities.

Haas urged commissioners to appoint another Elections Administrator — he suggested the agency’s No. 2 official, Meagan Wolfe — at their meeting Friday. In a later email, Haas said he expects whoever is named to lead the commission would begin immediately.

“It is time for this foolishness to end,” Haas wrote to the commission. “The agency cannot afford to be distracted by my status and must focus on moving forward.”

Not surprisingly, Haas’ departure became yet another point of partisan dispute, even as he sought to promote his deputy as a qualified successor:

Elections Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen, a Democrat, blasted GOP lawmakers after Haas’ announcement.

“His exit with class is so unlike the way he was treated and run out of that position,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen said the timing of Haas’ departure will hamper the state’s efforts to prepare for the 2018 election, particularly in the area of election security. Haas is the only Elections Commission staffer with a security clearance with the federal Department of Homeland Security, the agency’s federal partner in safeguarding elections against foreign interference.

“The commission and its staff will have to overcome a deficit that the Senate has left us in,” Thomsen said.

Haas, in his statement, said Wolfe has overseen election-security planning in the agency’s No. 2 role, and is in the process of obtaining a similar security clearance.

In his letter, Haas said he had considered challenging the Senate vote, but decided against spending the “additional time, effort and resources in the negative environment of litigation.”

Haas also urged lawmakers to act on three additional positions for which the commission has sought authorization from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. He said filling the positions, one of which focuses on election security, is crucial. Federal Homeland Security officials say attempts to compromise state election systems in 2016 were backed by the Russian government, and that such election-interference attempts are likely to recur in 2018.

“I am asking our elected and political leaders to wake up to this new reality and take it seriously before we fall dangerously behind in securing the integrity of elections and voter confidence,” Haas said. [The full letter is here – DMCj]

The next step is likely a debate over Wolfe’s long-term status:

The Elections Commission meets Friday. It’s scheduled to discuss a previous proposal by Republican commissioner Dean Knudson that Wolfe be tapped to lead the agency on an interim basis, and that a national search begin for a permanent replacement.

Thomsen said Tuesday that he supports Wolfe leading the agency permanently. Haas named Wolfe assistant administrator of the commission last year. She began working at the accountability board in 2011 and, like other employees there, transitioned to the Elections Commission at the time of its 2016 inception.

“We need to establish stability and send a message to the state that the witch hunt is over,” Thomsen said.

I never understood the complaints about Mike, given his careful demeanor and professionalism, but Wisconsin has descended into such partisan infighting that he has made the decision that enough is enough.

This was undoubtedly a tough call for Mike; he clearly felt that the Legislature’s attacks on him and the election commission were unwarranted and sought to stay on the job. Ultimately, though, he seems to have reached the conclusion that a protracted fight could put the state’s elections at risk – and is stepping aside in an effort to restore some normalcy to Wisconsin for the 2018 elections and beyond. Here’s hoping his departure isn’t in vain and that the Badger State can (somehow) get back on track.

Stay tuned …

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