Calls intensify to end Wisconsin election review amid blunders by ex-judge in charge



The glaring errors became clear shortly after a former Wisconsin judge issued subpoenas earlier this month in a Republican review of the state’s 2020 presidential election. Some of the requests referred to the wrong city. At least one has been sent to an official who does not oversee the elections. A Latin phrase included in the requests for documents and testimony was misspelled.

Michael Gableman, the former judge leading the review, admitted a few days later that he did not have “a comprehensive understanding or even an understanding of how elections work.” He then dropped some of his subpoena requests before changing course, telling a local radio host that officials would still be required to testify.

The latest round of reversals and gaffs intensifies calls to end the inquiry, one of many recent efforts across the country to review Joe Biden’s victory in states where former President Donald Trump and his supporters have laid baseless charges of electoral fraud.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul this week called the subpoenas illegal and “considerably too broad”, and urged Republicans to “shut down this bogus investigation.” Voting rights advocates, electoral policy experts and some state and local officials accuse Gableman of incompetence, say his review – which could cost taxpayers $ 680,000 or more – will reduce public confidence in the Wisconsin election .

“It’s terrible for democracy in the state,” Madison Democratic Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in an interview. “It’s corrosive. It undermines confidence in our elections and it is deeply insulting to our municipal clerks and election workers. . . . What should give everyone confidence is the fact that our elections are not run by people like lawyer Gableman. “

While some critics have scoffed at the constant stream of missteps, Gableman’s approach comes at a real cost to democracy, experts said.

“I think it’s harmful,” Barry C. Burden, director of the Center for Election Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said of the review. “It’s obviously amateurish and uncoordinated and irresponsible and open and partisan. The people leading the effort have already decided they either think the election was fraudulent or are suspicious of the outcome. It’s a violation of any standards you would use in a regular election audit or review the state might do. “

Gableman, a former Republican Party official in the state, suggested in November that the election could have been stolen, even as several local court rulings and recounts asserted Trump’s loss in Wisconsin by just under 21,000 voice. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. In a video released over the weekend, he doubled down on claims that election laws were “not properly followed” by state and local authorities, but did not provide further details. He said the goal of his review was not to undo Biden’s victory in the state.

As the 2020 election anniversary approaches, a number of similar ballot reviews are still ongoing or have just been completed.

A Republican-commissioned survey in Arizona confirmed the accuracy of Biden’s Maricopa County victory after a lengthy and costly process widely criticized by election experts as sloppy and one-sided. Texas state officials have launched a review of election results in four of the state’s largest counties. Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers last month approved subpoenas for a wide variety of voter data and personal information, triggering a lawsuit against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. And in Michigan this week, conservative activists rallied at Trump’s behest to demand an investigation into Biden’s victory there.

“If we don’t solve the 2020 presidential voter fraud,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday urging further reviews of his debunked claims, “Republicans won’t vote in 22 or 24. That’s the most important thing. to do for Republicans.

Gableman’s review is one of many ongoing investigations into the 2020 Wisconsin election. Chosen by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos over the summer, he has already traveled to Arizona to learn more about his review and attended a conference hosted by Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow and Trump supporter who claimed without evidence that China had hacked the election.

The exam had problems early on. Two first employees have resigned. Gableman’s team used an unsecured private email account under a different name to send instructions to county clerks about preserving evidence, leading to some messages being marked as “junk” or flagged as risky. The former judge also drew criticism after suggesting in a video posted to YouTube that the onus was on election officials to prove that the election was not tainted with fraud.

Gableman consults Shiva Ayyadurai, who accused Massachusetts election officials of fraud in the US Senate primary he lost last year, and Andrew Kloster, a former Trump lawyer in the White House who also claimed that the presidential election was stolen.

Problems with the review escalated on October 1 when Gableman began issuing subpoenas for in-person testimony and “all documents” relating to the November 2020 vote by mayors and other officials of the Big Five. counties in Wisconsin, as well as some state officials. The letters were riddled with errors, including a misspelling of the name of at least one official.

Gableman requested that officials come to Brookfield, Wisconsin, to testify in a rented office space. The following week, he admitted his ignorance of the conduct of the elections.

“No one can call election laws common sense,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Once you understand them, it might be common sense, but it’s not intuitive. And so most people, including me, don’t have a comprehensive understanding or even an understanding of how elections work. “

Gableman then rescinded the subpoenas he had just issued, saying officials did not need to appear in person for interviews and could provide copies of documents they had already made available under the Wisconsin Open Records Act. But on Friday, Gableman made more contradictory statements when he said he was still seeking in-person testimony from officials.

Local officials expressed frustration at the mixed messages and lack of clarity.

“Our lawyers have been going back and forth with their team trying to figure out what they want, because their demand was incredibly broad,” said Rhodes-Conway. “Every time we communicate with them, it seems to change.”

Matthew Weil, director of the electoral project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Gableman and his team appear to lack the expertise to properly interpret and contextualize the documents they collect.

“It doesn’t seem like they have any rules or know what they’re doing,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything to improve confidence in the process.”

At a press conference this week, Kaul criticized Gableman’s plan to interview officials in private. He said the review is “not a serious investigation” and “suffers from glaring flaws which destroy any credibility its results might have.”

“This continues to stoke the flames of the ‘big lie’ and it falsely undermines confidence in our elections,” he said.

Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Vos pointed to a statement released by the speaker earlier in the week, in which he said Gableman’s subpoenas were “issued correctly” on the basis of a memo. prepared by the non-partisan Legislative Council.

Yet not all Republicans in Wisconsin think they are going far enough. State Representative Janel Brandtjen, chair of the Assembly’s Campaigns and Elections Committee, which is leading its own scrutiny of the vote, called on Gableman to take a more aggressive approach.

“A cyber-medical audit, including the recount of physical ballots and an audit of machines, would finally restore confidence in the Wisconsin election,” Brandtjen said in a statement.

Gableman’s rhetoric has grown increasingly harsh as his criticism comes under more media scrutiny.

In an interview with conservative radio host Dan O’Donnell on Friday, Gableman compared the Journal Sentinel reporting to the work of Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister, saying the newspaper’s coverage “would make Joseph Goebbels blush.” The comment prompted a call for Gableman’s impeachment by Democratic state representative Lisa Subeck, who is Jewish and called the comparison “clearly anti-Semitic.”

After O’Donnell suggested that a comparison with Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, would be more appropriate, Gableman said he removed his reference to Goebbels.

Burden and Rhodes-Conway both called the journal “doomed” in terms of credibility.

“I think the only thing he could do that would be helpful is admit that it was a wrong exercise, that he was not the right person to do it, that he went with beliefs according to that the election was not trustworthy, that it violated all of the norms of normal electoral exams, “said Burden.” I don’t see how it is recovered, other than to just throw it away and admit that that was the wrong way to go. “

Weil said he hoped partisan reviews in Arizona, Wisconsin and other states would increase support for legitimate election audits conducted transparently by experts.

“There are absolutely ways to strengthen electoral laws and procedures, and we should do it, but promising some sort of cyber-medical audit that has no purpose, led by people who don’t understand elections, no. This is not the way to get there, ”he said.


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