The glaring errors became clear soon after a former Wisconsin judge issued subpoenas earlier this month in a Republican review of the state’s 2020 presidential election. Some of the requests referred to the wrong city. At least one was sent to an official who doesn’t oversee elections. A Latin phrase included in the demands for records and testimony was misspelled.
Michael Gableman, the former judge leading the review, admitted days later that he does not have “a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.” He then backed off some of his subpoena demands before reversing course again, telling a local radio host that officials would still be required to testify.
The latest round of reversals and blunders is intensifying calls to end the probe, one of several recent efforts around the country to revisit Joe Biden’s win in states where former president Donald Trump and his supporters have leveled baseless accusations of voter fraud.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul this week called the subpoenas unlawful and “dramatically overbroad,” and he urged Republicans to “shut this fake investigation down.” Voting rights advocates, election policy experts, and some state and local officials, meanwhile, accuse Gableman of incompetence and say his review — which could cost taxpayers $680,000 or more -- will decrease public trust in Wisconsin elections.
‘’It’s terrible for democracy in the state,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, a Democrat, said in an interview. “It’s corrosive. It undermines confidence in our elections, and it’s deeply insulting to our municipal clerks and poll workers. . . . The thing that should give everybody some confidence is the fact that our elections are not being run by people like attorney Gableman.”
While some critics have mocked the constant stream of missteps, Gableman’s approach comes with a real cost to democracy, experts said.
“I do think it’s harmful,” Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison, said of the review. “It’s obviously amateurish and uncoordinated and irresponsible and open-ended and partisan. The people who are leading the effort have already decided they think the election was fraudulent, or they’re distrustful of the outcome. It’s a violation of all the standards you’d use in a usual election audit or review the state might do.”
Gableman, a former state Republican Party official, suggested in November that the election might have been stolen, even as multiple court rulings and local recounts went on to affirm Trump’s loss in Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes. His office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In a video posted over the weekend, he doubled down on claims that election laws were “not properly followed” by state and local officials but did not provide further detail. He has said the goal of his review is not to overturn Biden’s win in the state.
As the first anniversary of the 2020 election approaches, a number of similar ballot reviews are still underway or have just recently ended.
A Republican-commissioned probe in Arizona confirmed the accuracy of Biden’s win in Maricopa County after a costly and drawn-out process widely criticized by election experts as sloppy and biased. State officials in Texas have launched a review of the election results in four of the state’s largest counties. Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania approved subpoenas last month for a wide variety of data and personal information on voters, triggering a lawsuit from Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. And in Michigan this week, conservative activists rallied at Trump’s behest to demand an investigation into Biden’s victory there.
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday urging further reviews of his debunked claims, “Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important things for Republicans to do.”
Gableman’s review is one of several ongoing probes of the 2020 election in Wisconsin. Chosen by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos over the summer, he previously traveled to Arizona to learn about its review and attended a conference held by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive and Trump supporter who has claimed without evidence that China hacked the election.
The review had problems from the start. Two initial employees quit. Gableman’s team used an unsecure private e-mail account under another name to send instructions to county clerks about preserving evidence, leading some messages to be marked as “junk” or flagged as risky. The former judge also drew criticism after suggesting in a video posted to YouTube that the burden was on election officials to prove the election was not tainted by fraud.
Gableman is consulting with Shiva Ayyadurai, who has accused Massachusetts election officials of committing fraud in the US Senate primary he lost last year, and Andrew Kloster, a former Trump White House attorney who has also claimed the presidential election was stolen.