By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican attorney appointed to the Wisconsin Elections Commission to fill a key vacancy Wednesday won praise both from a Democratic member of the panel and the GOP-hired investigator looking into the 2020 election.
Don Millis, who previously served on the elections commission and one of its predecessors, was appointed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He joins just two days before the commission was to vote on who will be its next chairman. Millis is eligible to run for that position.
His appointment garnered praise from Michael Gableman, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Vos to investigate the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden. Vos has put that investigation, which was widely panned by Republicans and Democrats, on hold pending ongoing lawsuits.
“Don will bring with him both the intellectual firepower and courageous resolve that are both necessary to enable him to help put a stop to the lawless actions of the leftist members of WEC,” Gableman said in a statement.
Ann Jacobs, the current Democratic chair of the commission who also previously served with Millis, welcomed him joining the panel.
“Don Millis was an excellent elections commissioner when he originally served on the commission,” she said. “And while I am confident he and I will not always agree on the topics we address, I believe his work will be professional and thoughtful as it has been.”
The next chair will hold the position heading into the November election, when Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson will be on the ballot, and for 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 exert influence over how questions are framed, an important power on the board that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Millis replaces Dean Knudson, who abruptly resigned last month. Either Millis or fellow Republican appointee Bob Spindell will serve as the next chair of the commission. The panel was to select the next chair on Friday, a vote that requires at least one Democrat to succeed.
State law requires the next chair to one of two Republican members — either Millis or Spindell.
Millis did not immediately respond to questions about whether he intends to run for chairman. Vos’ statement announcing the appointment did not say and he also did not respond to questions.
Spindell is unlikely to get the needed Democratic vote because he has taken many positions on the commission that have angered Democrats He was also one of 10 Republicans who cast Electoral College votes for Donald Trump in Wisconsin, even though Trump lost.
The commission delayed a vote on the next chair after Knudson announced his resignation under pressure from Republicans who are angry because he believes Trump lost to Biden fair and square.
Despite the findings that the 2020 election was free of widespread fraud, the commission has come under intense criticism from Republicans for a host of decisions it made leading up to the contest.
Millis made the motion to approve elections commission guidance in 2016 to local election clerks saying they can fill in missing information on the witness certificate that also serves as the envelope for absentee ballots. That guidance became the focus of intense criticism from Trump and Republicans after the 2020 election, who contend that the commission broke the law by telling clerks they could fill in missing information.
Trump sued unsuccessfully to disqualify 5,517 ballots in two Democratic counties where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope.
The commission deadlocked earlier this year over whether to pursue a rule to keep that guidance in place, with Democrats in support and Republicans against.
Vos described Millis as a “lifelong Republican” who started his career working for then-state Sens. Jim Harsdorf and Mac Davis. Vos said Millis focused early in his private practice law career on campaign finance.
“I’ve known Don for decades,” said former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, in a statement. “He’s a true conservative fighter who understands election law and knows how to get things done. I can’t think of anyone better for this position.”
Millis served on Thompson’s tax appeals commission from 1995 to 2004. He was also a member of a predecessor to the current elections commission from 1997 to 2001.