GOP election commissioner says he will remain on case over certifying Wisconsin results

MADISON – A Republican election commissioner is declining to step aside from deciding whether Democratic Gov. Tony Evers properly affirmed last year’s presidential election.

Commissioner Bob Spindell’s decision to remain on the case raises the possibility that the other members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission will consider forcing him off of it. 

It’s the latest development in an escalating fight over how Wisconsin officials confirmed Joe Biden had narrowly defeated Donald Trump in the state last year. The case can’t alter the state’s results, but it could change how state officials handle future presidential elections. 

In December, Republican Commissioner Dean Knudson filed complaints against Evers and Meagan Wolfe, the commission’s nonpartisan director, alleging they had improperly handled the finalization of the state’s results. Evers and Wolfe have said they acted properly. 

Knudson last month disclosed he would not participate in deciding the complaints because he is the one who filed them. The commission consists of three Democrats and three Republicans, but Democrats will have a 3-2 advantage when considering Knudson’s complaints. 

Evers’ attorney this month asked Spindell to also step aside from the complaint involving the governor because Spindell joined a group of Republicans in December who claimed to be the state’s rightful members of the Electoral College even though Biden had narrowly won the state.

Spindell’s participation in that meeting showed he had already concluded Evers had not properly named the state’s slate of electors, prejudicing him against the governor, according to Evers’ attorney, Jeffrey Mandell. (The meeting of Republican would-be electors is the subject of a separate complaint — filed with Mandell’s assistance — before the Elections Commission.)

The complaints over how the election results were finalized are being handled by DeWitt, a law firm in Madison. Attorneys there will make recommendations to the commission in the coming weeks on whether to uphold or dismiss Knudson’s complaints. 

Four votes are needed to uphold Knudson’s complaints. The losing side can appeal the decision to a circuit court. 

Spindell on Thursday told the DeWitt attorneys that he planned to participate in deciding the cases. Mandell responded by asking the other commissioners to decide whether Spindell could ethically remain on the case involving the governor. 

Spindell did not explain his reasoning in his email, but before he made the decision he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was concerned about the possibility that the commission would be unable to reach decisions if multiple members are asked to step aside from cases.

He also questioned whether Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chairwoman of the commission, could remain on the cases given that her actions are at the heart of the dispute over the finalization of the election results. Jacobs said she would take a request seriously if someone formally asked her to remove herself from the cases. 

Jacobs in November determined that Biden had won the state and sent that conclusion to Evers, who then finalized the results. In his complaints, Knudson argued the commission should have had a chance to discuss the results before Jacobs signed off on them. 

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.