Days after Wisconsin finished its unofficial count of the presidential election showing Democrat Joe Biden winning the state by about 20,000 votes, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has directed a committee with investigatory powers to review how the election was administered.
Vos’ request for the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, a body with subpoena power, to review the election comes as President Donald Trump has lashed out at the national election process and repeated unsupported claims about mail-in ballots and that Democrats are trying to “steal” the election.
While unfounded rumors about elections administration in Wisconsin and elsewhere have swirled, Wisconsin election officials have so far expressed confidence in the result.
Vos has instructed a further probe just as clerks in counties across the state get to work on certifying the results.
“I am directing the committee to use its investigatory powers under Wisconsin SS 13.31 to immediately review how the election was administered,” Vos said in a statement. “With concerns surfacing about mail-in ballot dumps and voter fraud, Wisconsin citizens deserve to know their vote counted. There should be no question as to whether the vote was fair and legitimate, and there must be absolute certainty that the impending recount finds any and all irregularities.”
Vos’ comments are similar to some of the misleading claims Trump has made blasting the election process.
“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled,” Trump tweeted. “Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted.”
The late counting of absentee ballots is normal and expected, especially as elections officials handle a surge in absentee ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of Milwaukee, for example, said weeks before the election that it didn’t anticipate finishing counting until between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. early Wednesday morning due to the amount of absentee ballots and the speed of their voting tabulators.
Absentee ballots in Wisconsin and elsewhere consisted of more Democratic votes, as earlier public polling suggested. Because election officials in central count jurisdictions such as Milwaukee needed to finish counting all the absentee ballots before they could report a result, the final unofficial report from some of those cities came in later in the night.
Trump himself voted in person but for previous elections voted by mail. He has repeatedly pushed unfounded claims criticizing the practice.
Vos said Wisconsin’s election system is “one of the best in the country” and he noted Wisconsin finished counting its ballots before most other states, but Vos said he wants to improve the process, specifically pointing to the time it took for Milwaukee to finish its central count of absentee ballots.
“I hope the committee investigates the inefficiency of Milwaukee’s central counting of absentee ballots, as well as the removal of voters from the rolls who no longer live here,” Vos said.
Milwaukee is one of 39 jurisdictions in Wisconsin that uses a central count system to tabulate its absentee ballots. Because Milwaukee had so many ballots to process this year, the city didn’t finish tabulating them and reporting the final unofficial results until around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, as expected.
While Vos only criticized Milwaukee, Brown and Kenosha counties, which also use central count systems, reported their election results after Milwaukee County did, finishing up around 6 a.m.
State law prohibits election officials from tabulating the results of absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, so officials couldn’t get a head start. Rep. Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, chairman of the Committee on Campaigns and Elections, will lead the probe.
“It’s important for us to answer the questions that Wisconsinites have about this election,” Tusler said in an interview. “Transparency is incredibly important with a very close election like we just had. We just want to get down to the bottom of some of the questions that are being asked.”
Wisconsin election officials have expressed confidence in the process.
Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said the election process followed state laws, which do not permit the counting of absentee ballots before Election Day and allow municipalities to count absentee ballots at a central location, which results in late updates to the totals.
“There are no dark corners or locked doors in elections,” Wolfe said in a press briefing Wednesday morning. “Anybody was free to watch those processes as they unfolded yesterday.”
Wolfe emphasized that in the coming days and weeks, municipal, county and state elections officials will begin the process of meticulously double- and triple-checking the results through the canvassing process.
The state will also begin a random selection of 5% of the voting equipment used in this election, which must be audited to ensure the paper tally matches the tally from the voting equipment.
When asked, Tusler did not cite any evidence for why an investigation into the election is necessary. He instead cited Trump’s unfounded claims about the election.
“Maybe (Trump) has information,” Tusler said. “We will get that information regarding this, whether there was an issue or not. The president of the United States says there’s potential fraud, and we’re going to investigate whether he’s right or wrong.”
He said he’s looking forward to the participation of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which he expects will have a role in explaining the logistics and difficulties of administering the election.
“There are many people, not just the president, there is a large group of people that are asking questions about this election and we’re talking about a very close election, an election that just requires additional insight, additional thought, additional effort to look into, and we’re going to do that,” Tusler said.
In a statement, Wisconsin Elections Commission public information officer Reid Magney said, “We are confident in Wisconsin’s election processes and look forward to providing any information requested by the Legislature.”
Democrats are skeptical.
Gov. Tony Evers, responding to questions about the Trump campaign alleging, without evidence, potential “irregularities” in the election process, called the rhetoric “irresponsible.”
“We had a smooth, smooth election under extremely difficult conditions,” Evers said in a call with reporters earlier in the week. He added the Trump campaign could go through with a recount if it had concerns.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Vos was unfairly singling out Black voters in Milwaukee and that the timing is suspect. He criticized the probe for potentially undermining the integrity of the election process and assuming there are issues with the election when officials have expressed confidence in the result.
Further, counties may conduct a recount if Trump’s campaign requests one.
“It seems to be really making it clear that this is Donald Trump’s Republican Party and the speaker is in lock-step in it,” Hintz said. “I have not heard (of) a single incident other than we had high voter turnout.”
Photos: Election Day 2020