Despite empty booths at Washington High School in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood on the city's north side, poll workers say they saw light, but steady turnout, but no lines by mid-afternoon on Election Day 2020. Photo by David Wise, Nov. 3, 2020.

Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, alongside national election experts said former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman needs to wrap up his investigation sooner rather than later to preserve election confidence and Republicans’ chances of winning in the future.

“No election is perfect,” the Senate Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics Committee chair and former Chippewa County clerk of 12 years said. “But there is no evidence of intentional malfeasance, no evidence that the election in 2020 wasn’t accurate.”

In a Capitol panel discussion Monday alongside Dem and GOP attorneys, she said claims of widespread fraud by those who don’t know how elections work are to blame for diminishing voter confidence — not election workers. She also slammed some of her Republican colleagues for playing political games to gain traction with their voter base rather than working to enact good policy.

“This is a charade,” she said. “There’s a simple explanation for almost every single thing that people accuse election officials of doing.”

She added Gableman should conclude his investigation soon because extending it will hurt the GOP.

She said people who don’t know about running elections are amplifying the calls of widespread fraud.

“Mr. Gableman is coming to my county and I will attend that meeting, along with my concealed carry permit to be perfectly honest, because it keeps jazzing up the people who think they know what they’re talking about, and they don’t,” she said.

Gableman said in a statement his office is committed to a “thorough and dispassionate look at all aspects of election administration.”

“It’s disappointing and inappropriate for a sitting state senator to inject such heated rhetoric into these important issues that so many citizens of our state are concerned about,” Gableman said.

Bernier was joined at the discussion by Bob Bauer, White House counsel under Barack Obama; Ben Ginsberg, who represented Republicans in election legal disputes for nearly four decades; and David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research.

The three said their work on the Election Official Legal Defense Network, created in September this year, helps election workers defend themselves from baseless claims. EOLDN provides pro bono legal advice and representation to election workers who reach out.

The three added that moving toward more professionally run elections would help restore voter confidence. But they also said threats to election workers and their families are driving the professional class out of their positions, leaving many politically motivated actors to fill the voids.

“You’ve heard what’s happened in Wisconsin, and to be specific, the actions and threats of prosecution by some Wisconsin legislators and sheriffs directed at election officials illustrate why the network is so necessary,” Ginsberg said.

Bauer also said those in law enforcement with law degrees who are disregarding the constraints on their behavior imposed by bar rules can face a call for disciplinary action.

Becker added the lack of transparency from Gableman and his team is a concerning sign political motivations are driving his taxpayer-funded investigation.

Bernier also said those calling for Wisconsin Elections Commission members to resign are wrongly directing their concerns at members who were just doing their jobs and did not intentionally direct anyone to violate election laws. She added any nursing home employees who may have violated the law in the absence of special voting deputies should be held accountable, not WEC members.

“I use the example of this: The mechanic wrecked your car, they didn’t fix it right,” she said. “Do you ask for the resignation of the CEO of General Motors Corporation? No you don’t.”

But there were issues with outside private money funding election efforts, among other things, she added.

“I understand where we have to deal with issues that we saw that weren’t quite right, but yet we can’t just holler voter fraud and beat up on election officials in general because all of them work very hard and try to do the best job possible in a bipartisan manner,” she said.

Watch the discussion at WisconsinEye.

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