The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau released its 168-page audit of Wisconsin’s handling of the November 2020 election. The findings are deeply concerning for anybody who cares about whether or not our government still operates with the consent of the governed.
The entire purpose of holding elections is for the governed to choose who should do the governing. For this purpose, we go through a rigorous process to establish laws to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote can do so, and that we will only count one vote for each eligible voter.
What the LAB audit found was that under the cover of COVID, the state’s Wisconsin Elections Commission and local election clerks flagrantly ignored multiple laws designed to ensure free and fair elections. Further, several of those clerks refused to cooperate with the LAB’s investigation. The end result is that the audit’s findings are incomplete, and we will never have a full accounting of what went on during the November 2020 election. In conducting the audit, the LAB surveyed all of Wisconsin’s municipal and county clerks. Only 47.9% of the municipal clerks and 81.9% of the county clerks bothered to respond. Also, citing obscure guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, the city of Madison, Milwaukee County, and the Town of Little Suamico refused to allow the LAB auditors to physically inspect any election records. This means that 623,700 ballots from two areas of the state that most flagrantly ignored election laws were not inspected by the LAB. One can only speculate why every other Wisconsin clerk thought it acceptable to let the LAB inspect election records.
Given the lack of cooperation from Milwaukee and Madison and given that Milwaukee and Madison were ground zero for election shenanigans, the LAB’s findings are incomplete, at best. Even so, the LAB’s audit documented several instances where election officials ignored or intentionally violated established election law.
Wisconsin law requires that election officials must continue counting ballots when the polls close until the counting is complete. They are not permitted by law to adjourn and come back at a later time to finish. The reason for the law is simple. Leaving boxes of ballots sitting around for hours or days is an invitation for election tampering. Also, when there is a large gap in time between when the votes are cast and the results are announced, it causes people to lose confidence in the integrity of the counting. Despite this law, the WEC issued permitted local election officials to adjourn before they finished counting the ballots. The WEC’s guidance is in direct violation of Wisconsin statutes.
Wisconsin law requires that municipal elected government establish polling places at least thirty days before an election. In March 2020, the WEC wrote guidance allowing municipal clerks to unilaterally change polling places without the approval of the governing body. At the time, it was the beginning of the pandemic and the guidance allowed clerks to move polling places away from nursing homes and other places more vulnerable to the pandemic. The WEC’s guidance remains in effect in violation of the law.
Perhaps no other area of election process was more flagrantly abused than with absentee ballots. Prior to 2020, Wisconsinites could easily vote absentee in person at their local municipal office or by mail. It required a witness and, with rare exception, a photo identification. In 2020, many of Wisconsin’s election officials abandoned any notion of ballot security for absentee ballots. In Dane County, many absentee voters claimed an exemption to avoid showing a photo ID. Unsecure ballot drop boxes were strewn across the state for people to deposit completed ballots. Missing or incomplete information was routinely filled in by election workers.
The results shown in the LAB audit are staggering: 59.6% of all ballots counted in the November 2020 election were absentee. The counties with the highest absentee ballots were Dane (74.4%) and Milwaukee (70.6%). Not coincidentally, these two liberal counties had record turnout and have largely refused to cooperate with outside audits.
Despite the record number of absentee ballots being cast by people who, presumably, were voting absentee for the first time, a shockingly low 0.2% of the ballots were rejected compared to 2.5% being rejected in the previous presidential election. Clearly, election officials were turning a blind eye to possibly fraudulent ballots.
Wisconsin’s election officials and the Wisconsin Elections Commission have a lot of work to do to re-establish confidence in the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections. They could start by following the law.