Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator addresses recent news regarding 2020 election

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 5:42 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW, AP) - The Wisconsin Election Commission’s administrator and chief election officer for the state addressed several recent news around the 2020 election process Monday. That included Meagan Wolfe saying that what she has heard about the Racine County Sheriff’s Office investigation is concerning.

“Let’s just be clear that nobody should ever be coerced or influenced to vote in a particular way,” Wolfe told reporters in a call Monday.

Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, who supports former President Donald Trump, accused the bipartisan state Elections Commission of breaking the law during last year’s election, taking the unusual step Thursday of detailing the allegations publicly even though no charges have been filed. In a 75-minute presentation streamed on his Facebook page, Schmaling detailed what he said was evidence collected from the Ridgewood Care Center in Racine County. Trump issued a statement encouraging his supporters to watch the presentation.

He said the families of eight residents told investigators they believed their loved ones did not have the capacity to vote but ballots were cast for them. It is not known who any of them voted for in the election.

“I don’t know how or who they voted for,” Schmaling said. “I didn’t ask because it doesn’t matter.”

Sheriff Schmaling suggested staff there may have influenced residents of the facility to vote.

“If there were instances of coercion or there were procedures that were not followed by the care facility or by the jurisdiction, then those need to be referred to district attorneys, they need to be investigated by law enforcement,” Wolfe said. She also noted WEC had not heard of any other instances like this across the state.

As it pertains to who has the mental capacity or who is considered incompetent to vote, only a judge can legally make that determination, not family or a caregiver.

The elections commission, controlled by an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, in March 2020 voted 5-1 that poll workers could not be sent into nursing homes to help with voting due to a safer-at-home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers. Evers’ order closed all non-essential businesses early in the COVID-19 pandemic. The order came at a time when nursing homes were severely limiting who could come into their facilities, often not even allowing immediate family members inside.

State law requires local election clerks to send so-called special voting deputies to nursing homes to give residents an opportunity to vote. After trying to make two visits, the deputies can mail absentee ballots to the residents instead.

Sheriff Schmaling called on the Wisconsin Department of Justice to investigate the commission’s decision last year to tell local elections officials not to send poll workers into nursing homes to assist residents with voting during the pandemic. The move is the latest example of Trump supporters seeking to undermine confidence in the election in a critical battleground state that President Joe Biden carried last year. The state justice department has already said it has no plans to pursue the case, the sheriff said.

“I think it highlights a lack of understanding about how special voting deputies work in normal circumstances, yet alone how that process works during a pandemic,” Wolfe said about the allegations. “I think it overlooks the fact that special voting deputies were not being allowed into facilities last year.”

An audit released last month, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, determined that the commission broke the law when it told clerks in 2020 not to send or attempt to send deputies into nursing homes. Instead, the commission directed clerks to mail absentee ballots to people in nursing homes who had requested them.

There were 30 recommendations LAB made for WEC staff for various improvements and 18 issues for the legislature to consider but did not find any widespread fraud or abuse that would have affected the outcome of the election. Wolfe said there are corrections WEC plan to make to the report, but that must be addressed in a public forum with the bipartisan commission member, which is scheduled for Dec. 1.

When the audit was released last month, a key Republican legislative leader said it showed the state’s elections are safe and secure. However, Democrats had said they feared Republicans would cherry-pick the findings to sow distrust.

Four people out of more than 3 million who cast ballots in the 2020 presidential race in Wisconsin have been charged with election fraud and none of those cases are related to voting in nursing homes.

Wolfe also addressed calls for her resignation from legislative republicans calling them unproductive, baseless, partisan politics, and that it misrepresents her role as she does not have a vote on the commission and she holds a non-partisan position.

Wolfe oversees an agency that has three GOP-appointed and three Democrat-appointed commissioners. She said claims of her mismanaging the agency are unfounded.

Wolfe’s position must be confirmed by the state Senate. She was confirmed for a four-year team in 2019.

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