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US Sen. Ron Johnson continues to push state lawmakers to take over federal elections in Wisconsin

Senator says he has 'completely lost confidence' in state elections agency

Senator Ron Johnson
Steve Helber/AP Photo

Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson continued to push on Tuesday for state lawmakers to take over control of federal elections in Wisconsin amid heightened GOP criticism of the bipartisan state elections agency.

Speaking on WPR’s “The Morning Show,” Johnson said he has “completely lost confidence in the Wisconsin Elections Commission” following a nonpartisan report on how the 2020 election was run in Wisconsin. He pointed out the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to set the “times, places and manner” of federal elections.

“I think the state Legislature needs to reassert its authority (and) make sure that, in the federal elections, our election clerks follow state law, not guidances that are contrary to state law,” he said.

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The nonpartisan election report, released late last month, found no widespread voter fraud or wrongdoing that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. However, it made dozens of recommendations for updating Elections Commission policies and state laws related to elections and outlined some ways the elections commission didn’t follow some state laws in 2020. Several of the outlined transgressions stemmed from commission guidance to local election officials during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those included:

  • Guidance to local election officials that the officials may adjourn before completing the counting of ballots on election night “as a result of unforeseen circumstances.” State law makes no such allowance.
  • Guidance that local election officials may move polling places under certain circumstances. State law makes no such allowance.
  • Guidance that local election officials should not send special voting deputies into nursing homes and care facilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which conflicts with state law.

The Elections Commission has acknowledged there is room for improvement in how it runs future elections, but has also defended its 2020 actions. State GOP leaders have issued sharp criticism of the agency, including calls for its administrator to resign.

Johnson’s push for legislative takeover of federal elections was first reported about two weeks ago by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Since then, Republican state legislative leaders have expressed doubts that such a thing is possible and have said they “haven’t studied” the possibility.

Opponents have argued decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and Wisconsin Supreme Court would bar the Legislature from taking such action. Others have contended there would be confusion if a legal battle ensues and state lawmakers and the elections commission both issue guidance to clerks.

During Tuesday morning’s interview, Johnson said he hopes that sort of confusing split doesn’t happen.

“I think that would be a very tragic result,” he said. “I would imagine some counties would follow the state Legislature’s guidance, which is what I believe they should do, and some might follow what (the elections commission) says.”

But Johnson argued some change needs to happen to restore public faith in elections.

“This is an unsustainable state of affairs where, at the end of the 2016 election, half of the country didn’t view that election as a legitimate result and here in 2020 the other half is saying this is not legitimate,” he said.

Johnson has previously said there was “nothing obviously skewed” about the 2020 election results and that Joe Biden won the election.

However, he said Tuesday he doesn’t have faith in Democrats’ support for election integrity.

“It does seem the Democrats want to make it easier to cheat the elections,” he said. “They keep pushing the boundaries of what’s allowable.”

There are two ongoing, GOP-backed investigations into Wisconsin’s 2020 election. One investigation, spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is being run by a former conservative state Supreme Court justice. The other was launched by the state Senate. They come after previous required state audits, a partial recount, the nonpartisan election report and numerous lawsuits failed to uncover any evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the election.

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