A highly anticipated nonpartisan audit of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin released Friday did not identify any widespread fraud in the battleground state, which a key Republican legislative leader said shows that the state's elections are “safe and secure.”
The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau did make dozens of recommendations on how the state might improve its elections.
“Despite concerns with statewide elections procedures, this audit showed us that the election was largely safe and secure,” tweeted Republican state Sen. Robert Cowles, who co-chairs the Legislature s Audit Committee, which assigned the audit bureau to conduct the review. “It’s my hope that we can now look at election law changes & agency accountability measures in a bipartisan manner based on these nonpartisan recommendations.”
The audit's summary didn't offer any evidence that the election won by President Joe Biden was “stolen” from Donald Trump, as Trump and some fellow conservatives have falsely claimed.
Wisconsin is one of several states pursuing investigations into the 2020 presidential election.
A second investigation is being conducted by a retired conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. That review, which Democrats have assailed as a sham, was ordered by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and is expected to be finished later this year.
The Audit Bureau report did identify inconsistent administration of election law based on surveys of ballots it reviewed across the state. It made 30 recommendations for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to consider and 18 possible legal changes for the Legislature to weigh.
For example, the audit said the elections commission should issue a rule, which would need legislative approval, saying whether local elections clerks can fill in missing information on absentee ballots or allow drop boxes.
The audit reviewed a sample of 14,710 absentee ballots that were cast in 29 municipalities across Wisconsin. It found that nearly 7%, or 1,022 ballots, had partial witness signatures; only 15 ballots did not have a witness address in its entirety; eight did not have a witness signature and three did not have a voter signature.
The audit also found that state law requires clerks to write their initials on absentee ballot certificates in certain situations, but fewer than 1% of the ballots reviewed were initialed. The clerks offered numerous reasons why they were not initialed, including that those who requested the ballots were registered and eligible to receive them, and that the clerks printed and the names and addresses of those who got the ballots to signify they were eligible to receive them.
The audit also found just 24 people who may have two active voter registrations and of those, only four who may have voted twice. The names of the four people, which weren't included in the audit summary, were referred to the elections commission, which could forward them to local prosecutors.
The findings back up the fact that few cases of election fraud have been charged in Wisconsin. Only four cases have been brought to date, including one involving a man accused of having voted twice. It wasn't immediately clear if that man's case was among the four discovered by the audit.
Biden’s roughly 21,000-vote win over Trump in Wisconsin has withstood recounts and multiple court rulings. There was no widespread fraud.
On Thursday, Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul asked a court to block subpoenas issued by Michael Gableman, the former Supreme Court justice hired by Republicans to lead the other investigation. A judge set a Monday hearing on the request.
Kaul represents the Wisconsin Elections Commission and its administrator, Meagan Wolfe. She was among those subpoenaed by Gableman, who originally said he was going to interview Wolfe, mayors of the state’s five largest cities and other local elections officials in private. He later agreed to cancel those interviews for now and accept a limited amount of documents from Milwaukee, Madison Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay.
Kaul, in his court filing, argues that the subpoenas are unenforceable under both the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions as well as under state law. Kaul said the subpoenas are not valid because he wants to interview Wolfe in private, rather than in front of the committee.
Kaul also argued that the subpoenas were too broad and vague and they were issued in the name of the Assembly elections committee. The chair of that committee, Republican Rep. Janel Brandtjen, has said that Gableman is not consulting with her about his investigation.
Gableman did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking comment.
Kaul last week called the Gableman probe a “fake” investigation that should be halted.
Vos ordered the investigation after Trump criticized him for doing too little to scrutinize how Wisconsin's election was run. Democrats have sharply criticized that inquiry as a taxpayer-funded farce, noting remarks by Gableman before he was appointed to lead the probe that the election had been stolen.
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