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“I want to let the public know that you have not let the Democrats have the floor.”

Democratic members of the Joint Committee on Campaigns and Elections walked out of Friday’s hearing on the Nov. 3 election, stating that they had not been called upon nor given adequate time to question the testimony of witnesses. 

The rules set by Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), the committee’s chair, limited testimony and questioning of speakers to only 20 minutes. When witnesses took up the whole 20-minutes, their testimony went unquestioned. 

By noon, several democrats, including Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), stated that he and his Democratic colleagues who were attending via Zoom were being ignored by the chair and not being given the opportunity to participate in the proceedings. 

Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) quipped, “well maybe [Democrats] should come to work.”

The Republican-led Legislature has not met since April. Despite the fact that almost 4,000 Wisconsinites have died from COVID-19, several representatives, including Sortwell, were unmasked during the proceedings. Democrats did not attend the meeting in person.

Spreitzer and other Democrats called the hearing a “sham.”

‘No credible evidence’

Only invited witnesses were allowed to testify, and of those one of the few election officials invited was Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Dean Knudson. A Republican, Knudson told the committee there was “no credible evidence voter fraud occurred.” 

Knudson also disputed several conspiracy theories brought forward by other witnesses. Regarding election machinery, Knudson said election officials did random hand counts to double-check the machine counts and found they were accurate. 

He also stated that the reason the number of Biden votes jumped late election night and into the following morning is because the central count system processes ballots cast on Election Day first and absentee ballots second. Before April, Knudson estimated absentee ballots only consisted of 10% of total ballots cast; since the COVID-19 outbreak, that percentage has increased to almost two-thirds of the ballots cast. 

Knudson did say that one thing the committee could do is clarify some of the state statutes on absentee ballots. 

Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at University of Wisconsin, said that while all indicators show that the Nov. 3 election went smoothly, there are always areas where the system could be improved. Unfortunately, he said that’s not what Friday’s hearing was about.

“The hearing does not appear to be designed to address in a serious way things that went well and things that should be adjusted,” Burden told UpNorthNews. “It’s labeled as an investigation but it seems more like an effort to raise doubt and suspicion.”

Speakers included:

  • Radio talk-show host Dan O’Donnell.
  • Ethan Pease, a Madison resident who was temping for a US Postal Service subcontractor and alleges that he learned through second- and third-hand sources that USPS ordered ballots to be back-dated. 
  • Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, whose law license was suspended by the Kansas Supreme Court indefinitely in 2013, went on a tear about the Center for Tech and Civic Life providing support to the state’s largest municipalities to help with election implementation. 
  • Karen Mueller of the Amos Center for Justice which has asked the State Supreme Court to throw out the election results due to the use of ballot drop boxes. 

What was brought forward as “evidence” was mostly innuendo and allegations based on unverifiable anecdotes.

Burden said with the Electoral College set to meet Monday, these types of hearings do nothing more than keep election-result “suspicions in the news, keep them afloat” and give them some legitimacy. 

“I think the hearings are actually harmful rather than helpful,” Burden said. “They are harmful to the public’s confidence, despite the success of the elections.”

He added there is a lot of willingness among Donald Trump supporters in particular to accept many of the allegations and assertions that are floating around out there.

“Keeping those alive with a hearing like this actually helps people understand how their candidate could have lost by raising doubt about the election itself,” Burden said.

Future action against clerks?

Several witnesses placed the blame for their claims of election improprieties on clerks and poll workers, who some characterized as hostile to Trump supporters.

Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) took issue with the lack of questions being posed to witnesses. For that reason, he questioned if the hearing was truly an investigative hearing. He also accused Republicans of allowing witnesses to smear election officials who came out and did their jobs during a pandemic.

“You’re not speaking up to defend the integrity of our clerks and our poll workers,” Smith said.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) said he wished the hearing was investigative so he could issue subpoenas and asked one witness about possible legal repercussions for election workers.

The League of Women voters, a nonpartisan organization that supports access to the right to vote, said in  a statement that voting was “smooth in most localities despite the high turnout and the pandemic.”

“We are proud of the fact that, despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the November 2020 election in our state went smoothly and had high participation,” the statement read. “The safeguards in our election system and our state’s highly competent and responsible election officials ensure that our elections are fair and clean. There is no justification for the extreme measures being discussed in the courts and the media, which could invalidate the legitimate votes of millions of law-abiding Wisconsin voters.”

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