Senate Targets Elections Commission
Three separate elections investigations pushing for changes. What's the likely impact?
There are by now three investigations – by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the Assembly and the Senate – into how November 2020 elections were run by 1,835 municipal clerks and 72 county clerks and overseen by the state Elections Commission.
Where are the three likely to stand one year from now, when the state is nearing the November 2022 elections for the U.S. Senate, Congress, governor and Legislature? Let’s consider each of the separate investigations.
The Audit Bureau found no evidence of improper vote totals, however. Auditors sampled 60 voting machines and found that all but one had given accurate vote totals; incomplete documentation made it impossible to determine the accuracy of one machine.
“Despite concerns with statewide elections procedures, this audit showed us that the election was largely safe and secure,” said Republican Sen. Robert Cowles, co-chair of the legislative committee that ordered the audit in February.
Because the Audit Bureau report is the only investigation completed so far, it’s important to consider some of its recommendations to the Legislature:
-Specify exactly what information a witness certifying that someone properly voted absentee must provide and clarify how municipal clerks can legally correct errors or missing information about those witnesses.
-Clarify whether so-called “drop boxes,” where voters can drop off absentee ballots, are legal.
-Create new rules governing the conduct of special voting deputies sent to assisted living centers and nursing homes.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos named former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to run the Assembly’s probe of how the 2020 election was conducted. Although Vos approved subpoenas for documents and local officials as part of Gableman’s investigation, city officials refused to comply and courtroom duels continue over what documents Gableman will see and who he will interview. Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul has sued, seeking to have the Assembly investigation shut down.
But Gableman at some point will give Republicans who control the Assembly a report that he will insist documents mismanagement by both some local clerks and the Elections Commission. The Assembly will respond by passing new rules for the 2020 elections — changes likely to go beyond those Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has already vetoed.
Three top Senate leaders – Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, President Chris Kapenga and Asst. Majority Leader Dan Feyen – said the Audit Bureau report documented Elections Commission failures “which undermined the free, fair, and transparent elections Wisconsinites deserve,” prompting a Senate investigation.
“When a state agency refuses to follow the law, especially one overseeing our elections, it should concern every Wisconsinite – regardless of [their] party,” added LeMahieu. “We will assess the full impact of WEC’s deficiencies.”
Five Republicans — Vos, Kapenga, Republicans Senators Patrick Testin and Duey Stroebel and Rep. Dave Murphy — also last week called on Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe to resign, citing a Racine County sheriff’s report questioning how votes were cast in a nursing home. Elections Commissioners said they ordered that special voting deputies not enter the home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate and Assembly investigations will be separate, although both houses are run by Republicans.
What’s likely one year from now?
Republicans legislators will have passed new election laws and changes to Elections Commission procedures. The Commission struggles because of how Republicans structured its oversight board five years ago: three Republicans and three Democrats.
Evers will again veto GOP-passed bills, saying they would disenfranchise voting rights. He will repeat what he told a New York Times reporter: “I would’ve never guessed that my job as governor, when I ran a couple years ago, was going to be mainly about making sure that our democracy is still intact in this state.”
But what about the 18 legislative changes in elections laws recommended by the nonpartisan Audit Bureau? In the brutal pre-election partisan landscape, will any of them become law?
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
- Op Ed: Sen. Ramthun Wants To Hijack Election - John Torinus - Nov 24th, 2021
- Democratic Legislators Refuse to Meet Privately With Gableman - Henry Redman - Nov 16th, 2021
- Kleefisch Files Suit Against Elections Commission - Laurel White - Nov 16th, 2021
- Gableman Says GOP Election Probe Stymied AG - Laurel White - Nov 11th, 2021
- Republicans Again Attack Wolfe, WEC - Henry Redman - Nov 10th, 2021
- Op Ed: Charges Against Election Officials Are Partisan Stunt - Jay Heck - Nov 7th, 2021
- Tony Evers and Josh Kaul Turn a Blind Eye to Election Integrity - Republican Party of Wisconsin - Nov 3rd, 2021
- WEC Commissioners to address audit findings Dec. 1 - Wisconsin Elections Commission - Nov 3rd, 2021
- State Elections Leader Refuses to Resign - Laurel White - Nov 1st, 2021
- LWVWI Statement on Racine Voter Fraud Investigations - League of Women Voters of Wisconsin - Nov 1st, 2021
Read more about 2020 General Election here