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Wisconsin Republican election probe hits roadblocks

August 11, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A GOP-led effort to force two county election clerks to turn over ballots and voting machines is running into resistance among Republicans as well as legal hurdles, with attorneys for the Legislature saying subpoenas issued so far are not valid.

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, the Republican chairwoman of the Assembly Elections Committee, is pursuing an investigation into the 2020 election results that have already withstood multiple lawsuits and recounts in the state’s two most populous counties.

Brandtjen is among supporters of former President Donald Trump who are questioning the election’s outcome, despite no evidence of widespread fraud. To date, only two people out of more than 3.3 million voters have been charged with election fraud in Wisconsin.

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There are already two other election investigations underway in Wisconsin. One, ordered by Republicans, is being led by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. The other, ordered by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, is being spearheaded by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Brandtjen issued subpoenas last week to election clerks in Brown and Milwaukee counties as part of a third probe.

Brandtjen has cited two separate state laws as granting authority to issue the subpoenas for ballots, machines and other election-related material. But attorneys for the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council said last week, and again Tuesday, that only Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Chief Clerk Ted Blazel can authorize the subpoenas Brandtjen has sought.

Brandtjen, of Menomonee Falls, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. She insisted in a statement Monday that legislative committees had the power to issue the subpoenas. The opinion from the Legislature’s attorneys that legislative committees did not have the power to issue subpoenas came at the request of Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer, of Beloit.

Leaders in Brown and Milwaukee counties have not yet said whether they will comply with the subpoenas.

Milwaukee County’s attorney was reviewing the subpoena “with regard to its validity and the extensive request for materials,” County Clerk George Christenson said. “Once we have completed our review we will be able to respond in full.”

Brown County Deputy Executive Jeff Flynt said the matter was still being reviewed and he did not expect an update this week.

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When asked Tuesday whether the counties should comply, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said “hell no.” Brandtjen responded by saying “if Governor Evers is so confident there were no issues, he would be more than willing to show it. What are they hiding?”

Vos, who has not commented since she issued the subpoenas last week, did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about whether he would sign the subpoenas. But he has previously said he didn’t think a third election investigation was necessary given the two other ongoing ones.

Vos has designated Gableman as a special counsel with powers to hire his own investigators after two hired by Vos quit last month. As of Tuesday, no contracts had been signed for any new investigators, according to Blazel.

Meanwhile, the Republican chairwoman of the Senate elections committee, Sen. Kathy Bernier, told CBS58 in Milwaukee t hat she didn’t support a third investigation.

“Having another separate investigation ... I don’t think would be fruitful,” Bernier said. “Right now, I have full confidence in the forensic audit that the Legislative Audit Bureau is doing.”

Bernier, who previously served as the Chippewa County Clerk before joining the Legislature, said she hoped the Audit Bureau report would restore confidence in the electoral system.

That audit is expected to be complete later this fall.