Conclusive evidence has just been produced that shows the 2020 election in Wisconsin was managed recklessly and lawlessly. While there are still many important questions to be addressed and investigated, we now know that changes must be made before the next election.
The non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) recently released its long-awaited report following a process in which members of both parties have consistently expressed confidence. The audit, which was thorough but not comprehensive, identified no fewer than six instances in which state and local election officials “did not comply with statutes” – otherwise known as “breaking the law.”
This news should shock the nation and embarrass Wisconsin officials who participated in or condoned the lawlessness. No less an authority than the United State Constitution assigns responsibility for managing our elections to the state legislatures, yet unelected officials in municipal clerk’s offices and the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) took it upon themselves to ignore established laws and unilaterally invent new rules.
In the aftermath of those explosive revelations, however, the most common headline was “Wisconsin audit finds elections are ‘safe and secure.’” Another headline declared, “No findings of fraud, but Wisconsin election audit questions some of the guidance clerks relied on in 2020.”
These headlines make it seem as though Wisconsin voters have nothing to worry about. And that’s exactly the impression the left wants readers to come away with, especially as it seeks to thwart ongoing investigations and election reform efforts in Wisconsin and other states. But responsible citizens need to look beyond the headlines and hold their government officials accountable for the brazen violations of law that the LAB documented.
State law, for instance, does not permit election officials to adjourn until the process of counting all ballots is complete. Despite this, the WEC issued written guidance that essentially gave clerks a blank check to pause counting whenever they desired and resume the following day. That guidance technically remains in effect to this day.
The same goes for written guidance authorizing clerks to unilaterally relocate polling places without approval from municipal governing bodies, which also earned the WEC a rebuke in the LAB report.
Similarly, the WEC issued written guidance allowing clerks to utilize absentee ballot drop boxes, even though state election laws clearly state that absentee ballots must either be returned by mail or delivered in person to the clerk who issued the ballot. The WEC ignored that language, taking the position that anything not expressly forbidden under the law is within the WEC’s discretion to permit.
The WEC’s extensive use of written guidance was itself a means of circumventing the proper authorities. As the LAB report noted, “Promulgating administrative rules allows the Governor and the Legislature to participate in the process ... and administrative rules carry the force of law.” Written guidance, on the other hand, is intended to provide clarification, not establish entirely new rules and procedures.
These abuses were not merely administrative squabbles. These unlawful alterations to election procedures were eagerly exploited by out-of-state partisan activist groups such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which used multi-million-dollar grants to turn public election offices into partisan get-out-the-vote centers for the benefit of one political party.
CTCL and other leftist groups purchased influence and then used that influence to persuade election officials in areas with large numbers of left-leaning voters to take advantage of the new rules in ways designed to drive up turnout among certain demographics of voters. In some cases, they even used sophisticated techniques such as geo-fencing to explicitly target racial minorities and other groups that could be reliably expected to vote for a particular candidate.
Voters should be able to have confidence that elections are conducted in accordance with the law and without partisan favor of influence. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Wisconsin and many other states, because billionaires were able to take advantage of unlawful rule changes to buy access to government election offices even as ordinary citizens were being denied access to those same offices.
At a minimum, the findings presented in the LAB report demonstrate that further investigation into the 2020 election remains necessary. They also strongly suggest that legislative reforms are needed to strengthen the election process and restore public confidence in future elections. We can now say with certainty that Speaker Robin Vos’ investigation was fully warranted, and must go on.