A Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission called for the Democratic chairperson’s resignation Tuesday over her confirmation of the state’s presidential vote, underscoring the disintegration of relations on the bipartisan committee that oversees the state’s elections.
Commissioner Dean Knudson said chair Ann Jacobs, a Democrat, had undermined trust after she affirmed the presidential election result and commission staff sent it on to Gov. Tony Evers, who certified the result Monday. Knudson had wanted a meeting of the full commission before any certification of the election. He also took issue with Jacobs signing off on the presidential vote tally before the initial results of a statewide voter machine audit were ready, and as several lawsuits challenging the election are pending.
“I believe that I’ve lost all confidence in you as the chair,” Knudson said. “I can’t see that we can go forward as a group. I don’t think you realize even at this moment how much you have destroyed the bipartisan nature of what has gone on.”
During a heated discussion Tuesday morning, Knudson and the two other Republicans on the commission unsuccessfully tried to block discussion and approval of everything on the agenda, which included accepting the initial results of the state’s voter machine audits, ballot designs for the 2021 spring election and the issuance of certificates of election by the commission chairperson.
Jacobs said her actions were consistent with the law and prior practice.
“I am not withdrawing as chair,” Jacobs said. “What I did was not illegal. You are misinformed about what took place and absolutely incorrect.”
She said she had fulfilled her obligation under the law to determine the results of the election, and that the commission staff had followed the letter of the law by preparing the certification for the governor to sign.
During the meeting, Jacobs certified all other non-presidential elections, and the commission approved the spring ballot designs, though it tabled discussion of the voter machine audits, which broadly underscored confidence in the machines’ accuracy, although minor discrepancies were recorded.
Most of the minor problems were due to human error. In one instance, a hand count in Oshkosh showed that voter machines incorrectly interpreted a crease on 21 absentee ballots as a vote for a write-in candidate in a state senate race in addition to a vote for a candidate on the ballot, an “overvote” that normally would get the ballot tossed.
The hand count resulted in an increase of 12 votes for Democratic Senate candidate Aaron Wojciechowski and nine additional votes for GOP Sen. Dan Feyen.
But overall, commissioners, including Republicans, said they trusted the accuracy of the voting machines.
“I have complete confidence in the voting equipment used in Wisconsin,” Knudson said. “I think there is no evidence of systemic problems of software problems, programming problems, hacking, there’s no evidence of switched votes. Overall our election equipment operated with great accuracy.”
In November, the commission approved an audit of 5% of the reporting units, randomly selected, with at least one reporting unit from each county.
The audits represented 4.2% of ballots cast statewide, with over 140,000 ballots hand-counted as part of the audit process.
On Sunday, Jacobs said she had planned to start certifying the presidential election so that legal challenges could move forward. Without a determination of the election results by Jacobs, there would have been nothing for the Trump campaign to challenge in court.
But Knudson maintained Jacobs should have stopped and allowed the full commission to send the certification document to Evers, preferably after any election disputes were adjudicated.
The Trump campaign petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday to take its case and invalidate more than 220,000 votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
The fallout on the bipartisan commission, which consists of three Democrats and three Republicans with a chair that rotates every two years between parties, comes just weeks after another rancorous meeting to order the partial recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
The meeting quickly devolved into partisan recrimination.
“This is ridiculous,” Democratic commissioner Julie Glancey told a Republican commissioner at the November meeting. “All you and Dean keep talking about is these evil Democrats are going to do something nasty so that these honest, hardworking Republicans aren’t going to be able to see what’s going on — and I’m tired of that.”
The bipartisan commission, designed by Republican lawmakers, has increasingly produced deadlock and lawsuits, as almost all actions require four votes, meaning at least one member of the opposing party must join his or her colleagues of the other side.
The concern from Republicans is centered around the longstanding role the commission’s chair has had in signing off on the election result and what has been viewed as the administrative role of the commission’s staff in sending the certification document to the governor to sign, the final step in the elections process.
Under state law, the chairperson is given the responsibility of confirming the results. The commission sends the certificate to the governor, though the law doesn’t specify if “the commission” means the six-member appointed body or its administrative staff. Republican lawmakers designed the current Elections Commission.
WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe said the commission followed the same process — sending the governor the results as affirmed by the commission chairperson without full commission input — as in 2016.
“I am not withdrawing as chair. What I did was not illegal. You are misinformed about what took place and absolutely incorrect.” Ann Jacobs, Wisconsin Elections Commission chair
“I believe that I’ve lost all confidence in you as the chair. I can’t see that we can go forward as a group. I don’t think you realize even at this moment how much you have destroyed the bipartisan nature of what has gone on.” Dean Knudson, Wisconsin Elections Commission member
"I believe that I’ve lost all confidence in you as the chair. I can’t see that we can go forward as a group. I don’t think you realize even at this moment how much you have destroyed the bipartisan nature of what has gone on."
Dean Knudson, Wisconsin Elections Commission member
"I am not withdrawing as chair. What I did was not illegal. You are misinformed about what took place and absolutely incorrect."
Ann Jacobs, Wisconsin Elections Commission chair