Scott Bauer
Covering Wisconsin politics and news
sbauerAPsbauer@ap.org

Wisconsin prosecutor won’t bring election fraud charges

February 11, 2022 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin county district attorney said she will not bring election fraud charges against members of the state elections commission or nursing home workers after a sheriff who backed former President Donald Trump called for them to be prosecuted.

Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson, a Republican, said in a letter dated Thursday that she would not file charges against members of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission because none of them live in her county and she doesn’t have jurisdiction.

The district attorney said she was frustrated by the jurisdiction issue because she believed that the election commission exceeded its legal authority with its decision not to send in the voting helpers into nursing homes as the law required.

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Hanson also told Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, also a Republican, that she would not file charges against staff at the Ridgewood Care Center because it was unreasonable to expect them to know the law better than the elections commission.

Hanson did not recommend that anyone else pursue charges, such as the state Department of Justice.

The sheriff had recommended that five members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission be criminally charged for telling local elections officials to send absentee ballots to eight nursing home residents in 2020 instead of sending poll workers to oversee voting there during the coronavirus pandemic.

Schmaling said so-called Special Voting Deputies should have been sent in to help residents who did not have the mental capacity to vote. The commission voted 5-1 against sending poll workers into nursing homes due to a safer-at-home order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Schmaling said the five commissioners who voted no should each face two felony and two misdemeanor charges. Charges were not recommended the commissioner who voted yes.

“It is appalling to me that an appointed, unelected group of volunteers, has enough authority to change how some of our most vulnerable citizens access voting,” Hanson wrote. “Residents who did not request ballots voted because someone else made a request for a ballot on their behalf and then voted on their behalf. If even one person’s right to freely choose to vote or not to vote was diminished, then a travesty of justice has occurred.”

She also said she was not suggesting that anyone tried to influence how residents at the care facility voted.

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“To the contrary, neither of us has any idea how the residents of Ridgewood Care Center voted,” Hanson wrote. “What I do know is that at Ridgewood Care Center, ballots were requested and votes were cast by residents who did not, and could not, have requested a ballot.”

But Hanson said she was using her discretion as prosecutor not to charge any of the employees at the care center.

“It would be unfair for me to expect that these health care professionals would better understand the election laws in Wisconsin than the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” she wrote.

A spokesman for the elections commission had no immediate comment. However, the board’s chairwoman, Democrat Ann Jacobs, defended the commission’s action as a way to ensure people in nursing homes could vote.

“This letter is nothing more than a partisan effort to dispute an election that was fair, safe and accurate,” Jacobs said in a statement.

An audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau determined that the elections commission broke the law when it told clerks in 2020 not to send or attempt to send deputies into nursing homes.

Schmaling, a Republican who was first elected sheriff in 2010 and supported Trump in 2020, said his call for charges was not politically motivated.

Both the audit bureau and a report by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty found no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. President Joe Biden’s win by just under 21,000 votes has also withstood recounts and numerous lawsuits. An Associated Press review of votes cast in battleground states contested by Trump, including Wisconsin, found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.

On Thursday, a prosecutor in northeast Wisconsin brought charges against five voters, three of whom cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The prosecutor said they broke the law by listing a post office box rather than their place of residence as where they live when registering to vote.

That brings to 10 the total number of people charged with election fraud in Wisconsin since the 2020 election.