MADISON – The chairman of the Assembly’s elections committee says he is unsure who won Wisconsin’s presidential election and might support having the GOP-controlled Legislature try to flip Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes from Joe Biden to Donald Trump.
Republican Rep. Ron Tusler of Harrison, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, also said he would not vote early in person in the spring election, as he did in November, because he no longer believes the procedure is being conducted legally by officials around the state.
Tusler’s committee plans to host a wide-ranging hearing Friday alongside a Senate committee to look into the Nov. 3 election, which Biden won by about 21,000 votes, a margin of 0.6 percentage points.
The legislative hearing comes as courts in Wisconsin try to resolve lawsuits by Trump and his allies before the Electoral College casts ballots Monday.
Meanwhile, one of Tusler’s colleagues warned of a revolt over the election and a Republican on the state Elections Commission said he had filed a complaint against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for certifying the results.
Trump and his backers have been trying without success to overturn the election, and officials from both parties, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, have said they have not found any signs of widespread fraud that would change the outcome. Trump last month fired cybersecurity chief Christopher Krebs after he announced the election was the most secure in the country’s history.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tusler wouldn’t say whether he agreed with election officials who found Biden won Wisconsin.
“Ask me after the hearing,” he said. “I think we’re going to get some new information at that hearing.”
Asked if he wanted to have Republicans who control the Legislature change how the state’s electoral votes will be cast, he said “I’m undecided on that right now.”
He acknowledged any change would have to happen before the Electoral College meets Monday and doing so would be difficult.
“When we hear from these folks on Friday I think we’ll find out a little bit more about the reservations folks have on this election and I think that that hopefully will be able to tell us whether this is something that cost Donald Trump 21,000 votes or not,” he said. “And if it did, then I think we need to seriously consider it. But if it’s just hypothetical … then I don’t think that’s enough.”
It’s unclear how lawmakers could change the results even if they wanted to do so because state law requires the governor to sign off on the state’s slate of electors.
Democrats on Tusler’s committee said in a statement that Friday’s hearing will likely “be a forum for debunked conspiracies and outright lies.”
“Now that the results have been scrutinized and confirmed again and again, this cynical attempt to undermine the will of the people is shameful,” said the statement from Reps. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee, Lisa Subeck of Madison and Mark Spreitzer of Beloit.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he wants lawmakers to review the election but does not believe they will find anything that will show Trump won the state.
But some of those on Tusler’s committee have a different view.
State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, last month raised the prospect of having legislators decide how to cast the electoral votes. And state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, this week issued a statement that said there was “no doubt” Trump had won the state.
“Without fair and transparent elections, society will revolt,” she said in her statement.
Brandtjen called the Wisconsin Elections Commission a “rogue agency” that has given clerks faulty advice about how to run elections. The commission was created in 2015 by Republican lawmakers. It consists of three Republicans and three Democrats.
Tusler said at Friday’s hearing he wants to hear from Ethan Pease, a temporary worker for a U.S. Postal Service subcontractor who worked in Madison.
Pease has alleged that postal workers were told to backdate ballots on Nov. 4 or 5. Even if that were true, it would have no effect on Wisconsin’s vote count because state law requires ballots to be in clerks’ hands by the time polls close on Election Day. Ballots that show up after that are not counted, even if they are postmarked before Election Day.
Tusler said he hoped to get Pease to testify but wasn’t sure if he would. He acknowledged backdated ballots would not affect Wisconsin’s count, but added, “I’m still working on that particular issue.”
The committee also plans to review some of the concerns Trump has raised about some election practices, such as allowing clerks to fill in the addresses of witnesses if absentee voters didn’t provide the information.
The committee will also review the policy that allows people to vote absentee without providing a photo ID if they say they are indefinitely confined because of age or disability. Republicans have said an increase in the number of indefinitely confined voters may show some voters are claiming that status without qualifying for it.
Trump has alleged in-person early votes cast in Wisconsin were illegal because most clerks allow voters to fill out one form, instead of two, when they cast ballots that way. But Trump has only challenged those in Democrat-heavy Milwaukee and Dane counties — not in other parts of the state.
State law requires voters to apply for absentee ballots in writing and sign a form certifying that they are the ones who filled out the ballots. For more than a decade, clerks have allowed early in-person voters to fill out a form on the back of their ballot envelope that serves as both the application and the certification.
Tusler filled out such a form in November when he voted in person, but he said he has since come to believe that using one form is illegal. He said he won’t vote that way in the spring election for state schools superintendent.
“I will just vote in a different way next time now that I’m aware of the issue,” he said.
On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin announced he would hold a similar hearing next week before his Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Johnson on Wednesday did not rule out challenging states’ electoral votes when Congress counts them on Jan. 6.
“It depends on what we find out,” he said, according to CNN.
Courts rule against Trump
The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week rejected three election lawsuits brought by Trump and his backers, but the president is trying to get the courts on his side with a new lawsuit.
A retired judge who has been assigned to hear that case will hold a hearing Thursday or Friday. He said last week he would rule quickly, and after that, the losing side can try to get the case to the state’s high court before the Electoral College meets Monday.
Two other cases are pending in federal court in Milwaukee. U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig in a hearing Wednesday twice called a part of one of those cases “odd.”
In the other case, former Trump attorney Sidney Powell on Wednesday asked U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper to accept filings without letting election officials and the public know who was submitting them.
Among the filings are ones from someone who purports to know of a conspiracy involving deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to rig voting machines and someone who goes by the name Spider who claims voting machines were likely hacked by Iran and China.
Critics have called the claims farfetched and irresponsible and have noted the machines in question, which were made by Dominion Voting Systems, were used primarily in Wisconsin counties that went for Trump, not Biden.
Separately, the attorney general of Texas this week filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the electoral votes of Wisconsin and other swing states.
Court observers have called that lawsuit the longest of long shots. Trump said Wednesday he planned to intervene in the case, which he called “the big one.”
Trump has contacted officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to try to move those states into his column.
Tusler said he has not heard from Trump or his campaign. State Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, said through a spokesman that he did not talk to Trump or others about the state’s electoral votes when he attended a White House party last week.
Other top Republicans in Wisconsin did not respond to questions this week about whether they had talked to the president about the state’s electoral votes.
Also this week, Dean Knudson, a Republican on the state Elections Commission, filed a complaint to his own commission against the governor, alleging he had prematurely submitted the state’s Electoral College slate to Washington, D.C. Knudson contended in his complaint that Evers was required to wait until challenges to results were resolved before submitting it.
A decision on Knudson’s complaint could break down on party lines, preventing him from prevailing. He could appeal a deadlocked decision to circuit court.
“It is important that Governor Evers and future Governors conform their actions to comply with the law,” Knudson wrote in his complaint.
Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.