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Madison’s 2020 election records subpoenaed by Wisconsin senate

“We’re not playing games,” one senator declared.
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 2:38 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:56 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Senate ordered the city of Madison to hand over its records from last November as part of its investigation into the 2020 fall election. Republican leaders announced the upper chamber issued a subpoena demanding the information.

They accused the city of “failing to comply with a lawful request for physical access to the records” to the Legislative Audit Bureau as part of its review of the election.

“At a bare minimum, all local, county and state government officials should respect the legal authority and integrity of the LAB,” Senate Elections Committee Chair Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) said. “All did, with the exception of Madison. That decision cannot and will not stand.”

The subpoena requires the city to hand over all physical absentee ballot certificates from the November election, so a sample can be reviewed as well as the results of legally mandated tests of all electronic voting equipment.

Responding to reports of the subpoena, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway reiterated a previous statement in which she said the Legislative Audit Bureau could examine copies of the election records and have the access to all of the information requested regarding the original documents.

“All they have to do is take a three-minute walk to our Clerk’s office,” she continued. Rhodes-Conway added that the federal and state laws govern how election records are handled, noting that anyone who willingly violated those laws could face criminal prosecution.

An earlier memo written by Wisconsin Legislature attorneys that stated is “arguably justifiable,” based on guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, to deny access to the actual ballots that were cast in an election.

“We believe the Legislature should listen to their own attorneys, who concluded that this was an accurate interpretation of the law,” the mayor contended. “We do not intend to violate the law simply because (Senate President Chris) Kapenga demands we do so.”

Despite the memo stating the clerks who denied access to the ballots appeared to be following federal guidance, the statement issued by Bernier, Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Senate Maj. Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) described the Madison Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl’s move to withhold access as “shocking.”

Kapenga went on to note that this was only the third subpoena ever issued by Wisconsin Senators and declared, “we’re not playing games, and there will be consequences if they don’t comply.”

State Senators launched their investigation into the Presidential Election, shortly after the non-partisan LAB released the findings of their probe. The Assembly is also conducting its own investigation, led by special counsel and former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, concurrently.

When announcing their own probe, the three top GOP Senators declared the LAB’s audit “painted a grim picture” of the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s management of the fall election and claimed state elections officials’ actions, “undermined the free, fair, and transparent elections Wisconsinites deserve.”

In its report, the LAB stated that election clerks in the city of Madison, Milwaukee County and town of Little Suamico did not allow auditors to physically handle the ballots.

The agency’s highly anticipated audit did not identify any widespread fraud in Wisconsin, leading a key Republican Senator, state Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), to call the state’s elections are “safe and secure.” Cowles co-chairs the Legislature’s Audit Committee which authorized the LAB’s audit.

He did note the agency’s report leads to bi-partisan fixes for some of the issues identified in the audit, made 30 recommendations for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to consider and 18 possible legal changes for the Legislature. The report also identified inconsistent administration of election law based on surveys of ballots it reviewed across the state.

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