MADISON – Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the head of Wisconsin’s elections board certified Joe Biden’s victory in the state Monday as Republicans contended they should have waited to act because of a likely lawsuit from President Donald Trump.
“Today I carried out my duty to certify the November 3rd election, and as required by state and federal law, I’ve signed the Certificate of Ascertainment for the slate of electors for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,” Evers said in a statement.
He issued his pronouncement soon after Ann Jacobs, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, verified Biden’s win by about 20,700 votes. The official recognition of Biden as the winner of Wisconsin came a day after the completion of a partial recount that found dozens more votes for Biden.
Also Monday, Arizona’s secretary of state certified Biden won that state, further narrowing the Republican president’s chances of persuading courts to give him a second term.
Trump has said he will bring a lawsuit in Wisconsin by Tuesday. During the recount, his campaign unsuccessfully tried to throw out 238,000 votes cast in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state’s most liberal places.
As have past election officials, Jacobs on Monday signed a statement of canvass to confirm who won the election. It showed Biden had 20,682 more votes than Trump out of about 3.3 million cast.
“I have examined this statement and I am now signing it as the official state determination of the results of the Nov. 3, 2020, election and the canvass,” Jacobs said during a four-minute-long livestreamed event.
Less than two hours later, Evers signed the documentation that will allow Biden supporters to cast the state’s 10 electoral votes.
Monday’s developments do not prevent Trump from filing a lawsuit, as he has said he would. Already the state Supreme Court is considering whether to take two lawsuits from Wisconsin voters who are seeking to have the Republican-controlled Legislature, rather than voters, decide how to cast Wisconsin’s electoral votes.
Trump, who lost Wisconsin’s election by about 0.6 percentage points, paid $3 million for the recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties, but lost ground in his attempt to pick up votes.
He can use the challenges he made during the recount as the basis for his lawsuit. He argued all in-person early votes in the two counties were illegal because of how clerks handled ballot applications.
He also contended ballots should not be counted from people who claim they can’t get to the polls because of age or disability, saying some of those voters don’t meet the criteria. Such voters do not have to provide photo IDs to get ballots, as other voters must.
Election officials rejected those challenges and Democrats called them a brazen and absurd attempt to disenfranchise voters.
The state has conducted early in-person voting the same way for more than a decade without any challenges. State law has long left it to voters to decide for themselves whether they should be considered indefinitely confined for voting purposes. The state Supreme Court is considering aspects of that policy as part of a lawsuit the state Republican Party brought in the spring.
While Trump has tried to throw out votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties, he has not challenged ones cast the same way in the state’s 70 other counties.
Fight over finalizing vote
Before Jacobs signed the canvass statement, Republican Commissioners Dean Knudson and Robert Spindell said they thought Jacobs should hold off on finalizing the results.
They wanted to discuss the matter when the commission meets on Tuesday, which is the deadline under state law for determining the results. They said they supported withholding the certification of the results because Trump is likely to sue.
“I think we shouldn’t be certifying until the appeals are all over,” Knudson said Sunday. “It seems crazy to me if it would be certified and over if there are still appeals pending.”
But Jacobs said she was not short-circuiting a potential lawsuit. She contended Trump couldn’t start a lawsuit until she acted — because he needs a decision from her to bring a challenge.
Republicans and Democrats have disagreed over how much Jacobs could do on her own. Jacobs said state law is clear that as the chairwoman she can finalize the results, just as past leaders of the commission have.
Knudson said he believed Jacobs could sign the canvass statement on her own, but the commission should have a say in whether to send it to Evers when it meets Tuesday.
But Jacobs’ canvass statement was sent to Evers on Monday under existing commission policy and the governor quickly signed it.
The results signed by Jacobs differed slightly from the ones reported Sunday after Dane County completed its recount. Some results were initially incorrectly entered as part of the recount, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said.
Biden’s winning margin of 20,682 was 13 votes smaller than the tally reported Sunday.
Former official says GOP shouldn’t block certification
As the showdown over finalizing the results played out, a former elections official with GOP ties told the commissioners they shouldn’t hold up the certification.
“You supervised this election. You are responsible for finalizing the results,” John Franke wrote in a letter Friday to the Elections Commission.
“For the sake of election integrity it is important that you acknowledge that Wisconsin counted votes in a responsible and reasonable manner; then let the other branches of government exercise whatever responsibility they might have with respect to this process.”
Franke, a former prosecutor and former Milwaukee County circuit judge, was appointed in 2014 by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to the state Government Accountability Board, which at the time was in charge of overseeing elections.
Franke sent his letter to all commissioners, but it was clearly aimed at the Republicans. He noted all elections have a small number of irregularities.
“But neither irregularities nor questions provide a valid basis to withhold certification of the votes cast by millions of Wisconsin voters and recorded by an army of election officials and poll workers,” he wrote. “Nor should a commissioner oppose certification simply because an issue may still be subject to litigation.”
Fighting certification “can only be interpreted as an endorsement of baseless and damaging claims” about how the election was conducted, he wrote.
For a couple of days in 2014, Franke had a Walker yard sign at his house because his teenage son was volunteering on Walker’s reelection campaign. Franke said at the time he told his son to take it down because his position on the board was nonpartisan.
Franke joined the Government Accountability Board as it was seeking to revive an investigation into Walker’s campaign and conservative groups over political spending. Walker at the time was filling the board with his own appointees.
Franke did not participate in the investigation because of a conflict involving a client he represented as an attorney.
The state Supreme Court in 2015 ended the investigation of Walker, finding it was unfounded. The probe led Republicans in the Legislature to dissolve the Government Accountability Board and replace it with the bipartisan Elections Commission.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.