MADISON – Assembly Republicans' review of the 2020 presidential election has come to an end 14 months after hiring Michael Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice, to lead the investigation.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who on Tuesday fended off a primary challenger, fired Gableman on Friday. The review has cost taxpayers more than $1 million and produced no evidence of significant fraud in the 2020 election.
Here’s a look at what's happened.
What occurred in 2020 and afterward?
The 2020 election was run unlike previous contests because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some polling locations changed. Voters turned to absentee voting in unprecedented numbers. Ballots were mailed to nursing homes instead of delivered by special poll workers who could assist residents.
Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes out of 3.3 million, or 0.6 percentage points. Recounts and state and federal courts confirmed his victory.
Assembly Republicans said they believed the way the election was conducted was flawed. They authorized a review and Vos last summer hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to oversee it.
Who is Michael Gableman?
Gableman served as the district attorney of Ashland County and as a circuit judge in Burnett County before running for state Supreme Court in 2008. He defeated Justice Louis Butler and stayed on the court for a decade. He chose not to run for a second 10-year term and left the court in 2018.
After leaving the court, he worked for the Office of Personnel Management during the Trump administration.
What did Gableman say about the 2020 election before he was hired?
Soon after the election, Gableman without evidence told a pro-Trump crowd that bureaucrats had stolen the election.
"Our elected leaders — your elected leaders — have allowed unelected bureaucrats at the Wisconsin Elections Commission to steal our vote," he said in November.
Did Gableman say he didn’t understand elections?
In October, Gableman told a reporter he planned to dig into the 2020 election even though he didn’t know the basics of election administration.
"Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work," he said then, even though the state is filled with many experts who know how elections are run.
What was Gableman looking into?
Gableman, who has conferred with election conspiracy theorists, has put much of his attention on more than $10 million in grants the Center for Tech and Civic Life provided to local governments in Wisconsin to help them run their elections during the pandemic. The center’s funding came from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife and most of the money in Wisconsin went to the state’s five largest cities, where Democratic voters are concentrated.
Courts and election officials have found the grants were legal, but Republicans have called them unfair because of where they went.
Gableman also looked into voting at nursing homes. State law requires local officials to send poll workers to those facilities to assist with voting, but the state Elections Commission told them to ignore that law because nursing homes weren’t accepting visitors during the pandemic. They told them to mail absentee ballots instead.
Gableman made public few details about the grants and nursing home practices that weren’t previously known.
What were Gableman’s recommendations?
Gableman published two reports, including one in March that recommended ending or limiting early voting. That report also told lawmakers they should consider revoking the state’s 10 electoral votes for Biden — an idea that is legally impossible.
Gableman touted the notion at a hearing in March. Later, he backed away from the idea in a meeting with Republican legislative leaders, according to Vos and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.
What’s the status of the election review?
The investigation ended Friday with Gableman's dismissal. Vos put the election review on hold in May, cuttin Gableman’s pay in half, from $11,000 a month to $5,500. Vos said Gableman’s attention shifted to litigation related to his review, but until June 10 he had not shown up in court for any of those cases. On June 10, Gableman appeared at the order of a judge hearing a lawsuit over his handling of public records requests. Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington held Gableman and his office in contempt after he refused to respond to questions.
Did Gableman try to jail anyone? Why?
Gableman in November filed a lawsuit to jail election officials and mayors who he said refused to meet with him. He later expanded his lawsuit to try to jail more officials, including midlevel information technology workers for the state. The officials have said they have cooperated with him and asked a judge to throw out his lawsuit.
What other litigation is happening?
In October, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued Gableman on behalf of officials he has subpoenaed. Kaul has argued that Gableman is trying to exert authority he doesn’t have, such as by conducting interviews in private instead of before a legislative committee that the public can watch.
The lawsuits Kaul and Gableman brought touch on the same issues. The one Kaul brought is moving faster and could be resolved sooner.
Kaul’s case is being heard in Dane County, while Gableman’s is being heard in Waukesha County. However they go, either or both could be appealed. That would likely carry them into 2023.
In addition, the liberal group American Oversight has filed three open records lawsuits against Vos and Gableman for failing to turn over documents about the review. They have won a series of favorable orders, including ones that found Vos in contempt of court and put more records into the public domain.
What’s the cost of the election review?
Vos gave Gableman a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000, but the review has surpassed $1 million. That cost will continue to climb because of the lawsuits.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Where the Michael Gableman review of Wisconsin's 2020 election stands