Senator’s spokesperson confirms telling Dean Knudson he’d lost grassroots’ confidence—increasing the chance that someone embracing “Big Lie” election falsehoods will take charge of the commission.
Thrown into uncharted territory, the Wisconsin Elections Commission postponed choosing its new chair Wednesday after a Republican commissioner thought to be the frontrunner for the post abruptly resigned. As a result, the next chair may be a current member who is an election conspiracy theorist and fake elector—or a yet-unknown appointee by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who is feeling pressure from former President Donald Trump to embrace deliberately false attacks on election integrity.
Dean Knudson told the commission that Republican leaders have branded him a “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only, a derogatory term far-right conservatives attach to members of the party they feel are too moderate. Knudson said he believes that the GOP has “falsely peddled” conspiracy theories that Biden somehow stole Wisconsin from Trump, even though multiple recounts and court rulings have found no widespread fraud and that Biden beat Trump by about 21,000 votes in the state.
“The painful truth is President Trump lost the election in 2020… and it was not due to election fraud,” Knudson said. “It’s been made clear to me from the highest levels of the Republican Party of Wisconsin there was a deep desire that I not be chair and that’s fine.”
Knudson said Thursday it wasn’t Vos who pressured him. When asked if it was Sen. Ron Johnson, Knudson said: “I think it’s always best for you to ask him directly to speak for himself.”
Johnson’s spokeswoman Alexa Henning said that Johnson told Vos that “Dean Knudson had lost the confidence of the grassroots Republicans in representing their interests on the Wisconsin Elections Commission.”
The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. The chairmanship rotates between the parties every two years. This year is the Republican turn at the helm.
Under state law, only Knudson and fellow Republican commissioner Bob Spindell are eligible for the post. Spindell, who has been publicly campaigning for the post, was one of 10 Republicans who fraudulently cast Electoral College votes for Trump in Wisconsin, even though Trump lost. He and the other fake GOP electors were sued last week.
The next chair will hold the position heading into the November election and in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election in battleground Wisconsin. Under state law, the chair approves the vote canvass following elections and certifies results. The chair also sets the agenda for the commission and can exert influence over how questions are framed.
Knudson suggested the commission hold off on a vote until Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appoints his successor. Despite Spindell’s urging to take the vote, the commission voted 5-1 to postpone the contest until its June 10 meeting. Spindell was the only commissioner who voted against the move.
Despite the findings that the 2020 election was free of widespread fraud, the commission has come under intense criticism from Republicans for a host of decisions it made leading up to the contest, such as expanding the use of ballot drop boxes and not sending special voting deputies into nursing homes to help residents cast absentee ballots as the COVID-19 pandemic was raging..
The four Republican candidates running for governor all want to dissolve the commission. The last holdout, Tim Michels, initially said he wanted to keep the commission but overhaul its operations but reversed his position on Wednesday and called for abolishing the agency. The three Republican candidates running for secretary of state want to shift election oversight from the commission to that office.
Spindell has said he supports keeping the commission in place, but during a speech Tuesday night he said he would be in favor of shifting election oversight to a Republican secretary of state.
He said no one understands what the commission does and many Wisconsin residents still don’t know if the commission’s decisions leading up to the 2020 election were legal. Polls indicate Republican voters’ skepticism is rooted in Trump and his allies’ efforts to spread false claims.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.