MADISON – A Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission told legislative committees Friday that he has “not seen credible evidence of large-scale voter fraud in Wisconsin during the November election.”
“There were no dumps of ballots during the night, none,” Dean Knudson told lawmakers looking into the conduct of the Nov. 3 election that Democrat Joe Biden won by about 21,000 votes over President Donald Trump.
“There is no evidence of any fraud related to Dominion voting machines in Wisconsin,” Knudson said. “Counting in Wisconsin did not stop and restart. Election observers were allowed to be present throughout Election Day and election night proceedings. The number of voters on our poll books match the number of ballots cast.
“There has been no criminal evidence presented to the Elections Commission that any of these problems occurred in Wisconsin,” he said.
Knudson’s testimony came early in a hearing, around the same time a Wisconsin judge ruled against Trump in one of his lawsuits and declared, “There is no credible evidence of misconduct or wide-scale fraud.”
The witness list before the legislative committees was heavily weighted toward Trump’s allies and partisans.
Most Democrats watched virtually, failed in an attempt to get witnesses to testify under oath, argued they weren’t being given time to pose questions and many began bolting the hearing around noon. They said it was repugnant that the legislators were reviewing the election but have not taken action on the coronvairus pandemic for eight months.
“This hearing is a sham,” said state Rep. Lisa Subek, D-Madison.
Knudson, a former GOP lawmaker who spearheaded the effort to create the state’s bipartisan Elections Commission, called for the Legislature to clarify laws and “reduce future controversy over election processes.”
Knudson said the statute needs to be tightened regarding who qualifies as an indefinitely confined voter, voter registration lists have to be cleaned up and absentee ballot delivery should be clarified. Voters who are indefinitely confined because of age or disability do not have to provide a photo ID to vote absentee, as other voters must.
Knudson also called for major reform of central ballot counting, where in a city like Milwaukee, absentee ballots are counted in a single location and not at individual polling places. That leads to long delays in tallying votes.
“This system was fatally flawed on election night,” he said.
Central counting locations for absentee ballots were used in three dozen municipalities throughout the state.
In keeping with recent litigation, those testifying Friday raised questions about clerks filling in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes and allowing people to avoid providing an ID to vote absentee if they said they were confined because of age or disability.
Those practices are in keeping with state law, according to a ruling issued Friday by Reserve Judge Stephen Simanek.
At the hearing before the Assembly and Senate’s elections committees, Republicans debated whether they could swap out the state’s slate of 10 electors for Biden with 10 for Trump. GOP Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills said they didn’t have that power, but GOP Rep. Shae Sortwell of Gibson said they might — though he did not advocate doing that.
“What we know now is it’s uncharted territory,” said Sortwell, who added he wasn’t necessarily advocating for changing the slate of electors.
Rep. Ron Tusler, a Harrison Republican who leads the Assembly committee, said at the outset: “Wisconsin deserves a 100% transparent election system where no one is asked to trust without the ability to verify.”
“Sadly, many in Wisconsin may have reasonable doubts about the accuracy and impartiality of this election,” he said.
Tusler said more than 6,000 individuals contacted his office, while more than 158,000 people contacted 35 legislative offices over concerns about the election.
“I challenge you to set aside your political beliefs,” he said, adding “take off your red hat, or your blue hat and be a neutral juror in this committee.”
While he said he wanted to gather information about the election, he did not call before the committee a host of election officials who were willing to testify, including Meagan Wolfe, the director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and Claire Woodall-Vogg, the director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.
Tusler said his committee will recommend that the Legislative Audit Bureau review Milwaukee County’s election results and that the Wisconsin Elections Commission “must amend its manual to remove illegal procedures.”
“And all cases of election fraud must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he said.
Barrett calls session a ‘kangaroo court’
In an interview, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Trump and his supporters were seeking a “kangaroo court” so they could advance “crazy conspiracy theories.”
“Even judges that he appointed are rejecting the crazy claims. So the challenge was, where could they find a group of individuals who would be willing to serve as a kangaroo court,” Barrett said. “And it appears that this committee might be that.”
He added, “Of course, Republican-controlled Legislature has fashioned the election laws in the state of Wisconsin over the last 10 years, and now it’s showing its disgust at the laws and the institutions that it created. They don’t have anybody to point the finger at but themselves.”
Bob Spindell, a GOP member of the state Elections Commission, told lawmakers, “It appears we certainly had fraud all over the country in this 2020 election,” contradicting the Trump administration’s own attorney general, William Barr, who said his Justice Department has not found evidence of widespread fraud.
Spindell joined his colleagues on the commission in approving mailing absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in Wisconsin but told lawmakers Friday that mail voting was “much less secure than in-person voting.”
He criticized decisions by the commission that kept Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins and rapper Kanye West off the state’s presidential ballot. And he said during the recount in Milwaukee, “none of the Trump observers could see anything.”
Tom Sylke, an attorney who worked for the Trump team during the recount in Milwaukee County, told the committee, “Wisconsin’s electoral house is on fire.”
“Voters can accept losing if they trust the integrity of an election,” he added. “But what they cannot and will not accept or tolerate is an election process that is either so flawed or so susceptible to corruption that election results cannot be trusted.”
Sylke said at the Milwaukee recount there was a “very adversarial viewpoint to one candidate, President Trump.”
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell defended the integrity of the election and chided the lawmakers for “having a restricted invite list to this hearing that does not include municipal clerks, Election Commission staff, or even other county clerks from Republican parts of the state.”
“It is as if there is a concerted effort in this committee to not be confronted with the truth that there is no evidence of fraud and that this election was run exceptionally well,” he said.
Republicans a month ago said they wanted to subpoena election officials — something that hasn’t happened in decades — but ultimately didn’t allow them to come before the committees to defend themselves. They haven’t explained why they changed course.
The hearing follows ones Republicans have held in other states that Biden narrowly won. The hearings have drawn praise from Trump’s supporters for putting a spotlight on how the election was run. They have attracted ridicule and a “Saturday Night Live” skit from critics.
GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester last month said he did not believe the Legislature’s findings would change the results of the election. But more recently he said he has heard “numerous concerns” about how the election was run.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Beloit Democrat on Tusler’s committee, chalked up Vos’ recent tone to his visit to the White House for a Christmas party.
“His rhetoric has shifted much more in line with the Trump rhetoric and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he just got back from the White House,” Spreitzer said.
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Vos had not been contacted by Trump or his team about the hearing or changing Wisconsin’s electoral votes.
Since losing the election, Trump has raised numerous questions about Wisconsin’s election. He has argued virtually all early in-person voting in Wisconsin was illegal and claimed clerks had broken the law by setting up absentee ballot drop boxes.
Judges in Wisconsin have shut him and his backers down at every turn.
Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.