The Senate’s Elections Committee will have the power to issue subpoenas as part of its investigation into issues identified in the Legislative Audit Bureau’s look at the 2020 election, including the city of Madison’s refusal to turn over records for the review.
But unlike the Assembly probe of the 2020 election, the Senate doesn’t plan to spend any additional taxpayer resources on the review, according to a spokesman for Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg. The effort will be conducted by lawmakers and staff.
The Senate’s move opens up a new investigation into the 2020 election in addition to the Assembly probe being led by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
The LAB report released Friday didn’t find widespread fraud in the 2020 election. But it did include nearly 50 recommendations for the Wisconsin Elections Commission and state Legislature to consider.
LeMahieu, Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Assistant Majority Leader Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, said the LAB report painted a “grim picture of the Wisconsin Election Commission and their careless administration of election law in Wisconsin.”
“We will assess the full impact of WEC’s deficiencies and determine the best course of action for the future of election administration given the now documented failures of the current administration and staff,” LeMahieu said.
The Assembly made a similar move to empower its Elections Committee to review the 2020 election late last year. But Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, made the review conducted by Gableman the focus of his efforts.
The subpoenas Gableman issued the WEC are now tied up in a court fight after Dem AG Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit seeking to bar their enforcement. The suit argues Gableman may only compel sworn testimony before a legislative committee and not in a private office as he had planned.
Kapenga said he was “disappointed to see that an elected official tasked with the administration of fair and transparent elections would refuse their duty to provide requested information necessary to prove they did their job adequately.”
Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, who was appointed to the job in 2006 and isn’t elected, sent LAB Deputy State Auditor Dean Swenson a letter in August declining to allow agency employees to physically handle ballots and other election records, citing guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice. Instead, Witzel-Behl offered to allow LAB to have copies of election records. She asked the LAB to include the city’s explanation and its offer to provide copies of records “if the report intends to imply that we have provided access to records that is less than satisfactory.”
Friday’s report stated the Madison clerk declined to allow the agency to physically handle absentee ballot certificates or ballots and cited guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice in doing so. It didn’t mention the offer to review copies of election records.
According to the LAB report, clerks for Milwaukee County and the Town of Little Suamico also declined to allow the agency to physically handle ballots.
“I do not wish to have a State audit note that my office permitted access to election records contrary to law and potentially jeopardized the security and chain of custody of records, which are to be preserved for potential use by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Witzel-Behl wrote in August. “The LAB is certainly welcome to obtain copies of any of the records that we are able to release under the Public Records Law. There is no information or data in the election records that can be observed through physical handling that cannot be viewed using our protocols or obtaining copies.”
See Madison’s August letter to LAB: