As It Blows Past Deadline, WI Election Review Faces Legal Challenges
A partisan review of Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election was going to wrap up this week, but the leaders of the investigation say they need more time to complete the process.
Republican leaders blame the missed deadline in part on Attorney General Josh Kaul, who sued in October to block subpoenas, arguing the investigators are overstepping their legal boundaries. Kaul argued that the subpoenas for Meagan Wolfe, the state's top election official, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission are overly broad and unenforceable. But in a hearing on Dec. 23, Attorney James Bopp said the investigators have the full authority of the Legislature.
"The Legislature has plenary authority to make sure that these people administer the law properly," he said.
Kaul also said the investigators can't compel public officials to testify privately - that they should appear publicly, before a legislative committee. The taxpayer-funded probe received about $680,000 for a contract ending Dec. 31. Legislative Republicans haven't yet announced how much more money the project will receive, or its potential end date.
The investigation has drawn criticism from voting-rights groups, open-government advocates and legislative Democrats. It's even a divisive issue within the Wisconsin GOP. Sen. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections, has accused the investigation leader, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, of spreading misinformation and undermining a bedrock of the electoral process.
"When Benjamin Franklin came out of the convention and our Constitution was created," Bernier said, "he was asked, 'What kind of government do we have?' And he said, 'A Republic if we can keep it.' We're in jeopardy of losing it."
The mayors of Wisconsin's five largest cities also have been subpoenaed. At least two have refused to testify behind closed doors: Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich. In response, Gableman is filing a separate suit to force private interviews. A hearing on that case is set for Jan. 21. A decision on the other subpoenas is expected by Jan. 10.