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Milwaukee County Election Officials Poised To Reject GOP Investigation Subpoena

County Clerk George Christenson Says Legal Response Coming Friday

A man in gloves and a face mask carries a stack of ballots during the recount
An election official carries a stack of ballots Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, during the recount in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Milwaukee County’s top election official said Thursday the county will take action this week on an election investigation subpoena issued by a Republican state lawmaker that calls for the release of ballots and voting machines to a legislative committee.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, the chair of the state Assembly’s elections committee, issued subpoenas to Milwaukee and Brown counties last month. The subpoenas call for the release of a wide range of items and data, including ballots and voting machines, to her committee for review. Brandtjen has been a vocal critic of how the 2020 election was administered in Wisconsin and was one of a few state lawmakers who traveled to Arizona earlier this year to learn about a controversial election audit there.

On Thursday, Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said an official response to the subpoena would be released by his office on Friday, but he alluded to a possible rejection of the request. He said it is “common knowledge” that the subpoenas are “invalid.” He pointed out two recent memos from the Legislature’s legal office said the documents are not binding without the signature of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. Vos has not signed the subpoenas and has indicated he has no plans to do so.

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So I’m sure people can draw their own conclusions,” Christenson said of the county’s pending action.

Christenson said his office has taken the subpoenas seriously and that they have undergone extensive legal review. However, he criticized the documents as “clearly a cut and paste job” from similar legal moves in other states across the country because they request items that don’t exist or aren’t part of required election processes in the state of Wisconsin.

It’s clear to me that the Republicans are not interested in improving our election processes but rather desperate to find some type of smoking gun that doesn’t exist,” he said. “I would encourage them to educate themselves on how elections work in their own state, rather than flying to Arizona or getting their intelligence from a guy who makes pillows.”

Brandtjen’s attempted investigation is one of several ongoing or pending inquiries backed by GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin. Another investigation, called by Vos, is being led by a former conservative state Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman.

Christenson said he hasn’t been contacted by Gableman.

There is also an ongoing audit being conducted by the Legislature’s nonpartisan audit bureau. That inquiry was ordered by the GOP-controlled Legislature. Christenson said he has been in touch with Legislative Audit Bureau staff for that effort. He said eight staff from the bureau visited the county clerk’s office and reviewed information for three days in August.

I have full faith and confidence in the nonpartisan Legislature Audit Bureau,” he said.

However, Christenson continued to question the validity of continued inquiries into the 2020 election.

“When’s enough, enough?” he said.

Previous required state audits, a partial recount and numerous lawsuits failed to uncover any evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the election. According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, local clerks in Wisconsin referred just 13 allegations of suspected fraud in the November 2020 election to district attorneys. Nearly 3.3 million votes were cast in the state.

Republicans have attempted to make several changes to voting laws in the state since November, but those efforts have been vetoed by Evers.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a margin similar to several other razor-thin statewide elections in recent years.