Wisconsin election officials push back against 2020 probe

Todd Richmond
Associated Press

Madison, Wis. – Wisconsin election officials pushed back Friday against a Republican-hired investigator’s review of the 2020 election, branding his findings as inaccurate and insisting the contest was conducted fairly and accurately.

Republicans have refused to accept that President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes, despite recounts, a state audit and court challenges that have upheld the results. Under pressure from Trump, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman last summer to investigate the election at a cost of $676,000 in taxpayer money.

Michael Gableman, the Republican-hired investigator of Wisconsin's 2020 election, said Tuesday that the state Legislature should "take a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020" presidential election, a move that GOP leaders reiterated they won't make and that nonpartisan attorneys have said is illegal.

Gableman issued an interim report on Tuesday recommending that legislators consider decertifying Biden’s win in Wisconsin. The Legislature’s attorneys have said lawmakers can’t legally erase the results; Vos and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said they won’t try. Democrats have called Gableman’s probe “a circus.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission issued a seven-page rebuttal to Gableman’s major findings on Friday.

“Various court rulings and investigations have repeatedly affirmed the integrity of Wisconsin’s 2020 general election. All decisions made by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission affecting the 2020 general election were fully transparent and made in public meetings,” the commission said in a statement accompanying the rebuttal.

The commission began by saying $8.8 million in private grants Wisconsin’s largest cities received to help cover election administration don’t amount to bribery as Gableman alleged. The commission noted that courts both before and after the 2020 election dismissed complaints about the grants and a federal judge found nothing in state law blocks local governments from accepting such grants. The money came from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Gableman accused commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe of lying to the Assembly elections committee last year. The commission insisted that she wasn’t aware of the grants or that local clerks were accepting them and became aware of the grant funding only after the municipalities had accepted the money.

The commission also clarified that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is still considering whether the widespread use of absentee ballot drop boxes is legal in the state. A judge in January said ballot boxes outside election clerks’ offices are illegal because nothing in state law allowed the elections commission to issue that guidance to clerks. Gableman stated in his report that the use of the boxes had been successfully challenged in state court.

The commission said it didn’t encourage people to declare themselves indefinitely confined to avoid showing photo identification or enable clerks to open absentee ballots before Election Day, as Gableman claimed.

The commission also took him to task for stating that election officials failed to prevent incapacitated people from voting, saying only a judge can stop someone from voting by finding him or her incompetent.

Vos spokeswoman Angela Joyce didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.