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Wisconsin’s GOP-backed election investigation expanded over the holidays

Subpoenas issued to government information technology workers, Green Bay city clerk

A voting booth says "VOTE" with a U.S. flag
A polling location is open for voters in the spring election Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Tenney Park in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

More government employees and election officials, including information technology workers in Madison and Green Bay and the Green Bay city clerk, have been served with subpoenas in an ongoing Republican-backed investigation of the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

The taxpayer-funded investigation, led by former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman and spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was initially expected to wrap up late last year, but is instead expanding its scope. Vos has said he doesn’t know when the probe, which has an initial budget of roughly $700,000, will end. He has also acknowledged it may require additional taxpayer funding.

The new subpoenas, all dated Dec. 28, seek a wide range of documents from state election officials and government employees in Madison and Green Bay. The requests include documents related to private grant funding received by municipalities to help support election administration, municipal election budgets and details about computers and software used for election administration.

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The subpoenas also request in-person testimony from some officials and government workers, including a new request for testimony from the chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the elections commission’s IT manager, the Green Bay IT department and Madison’s chief information officer.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported the subpoenas, also reported that a request went to Milwaukee’s IT department. A spokesperson for the city declined to confirm that request for WPR on Monday.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who has already been subpoenaed in the probe, criticized the new requests to Madison city employees on Monday, calling them “a waste of time.”

“Attorney Gableman and his team are yet again demonstrating that they have learned nothing about election administration in Wisconsin,” Rhodes-Conway said in a prepared statement. “Their ‘investigation’ is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Here in Madison, we continue to focus on the real work of making sure that everyone eligible can cast a ballot safely and easily.”

The new Madison-related subpoenas went to the city’s chief information officer and finance director.

In a tweet, Wisconsin Elections Commission chair Ann Jacobs called the Gableman team’s new request to the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s IT head “bizarre and insanely broad.” That request includes copies of all communication “between you and any other person or entity” related to the 2020 election between January 2020 and the present day, as well as election applications or data “related to any Wisconsin voter or person eligible to vote in Wisconsin.”

A large number of subpoenas have already been issued in the election investigation, including requests for in-person testimony and documents from state election officials and the mayors of the state’s five largest cities. A lawsuit over whether the in-person testimony must happen in public or behind closed doors, as Gableman prefers, is pending. A Dane County judge is expected to rule in the case by Jan. 10.

There are also two lawsuits pending about the public release of information related to the investigation, including contracts and communications between Vos and Gableman. The two men have resisted making that information public, arguing doing so would compromise the integrity of the inquiry. Rulings in those cases are expected on Jan. 21 and Jan. 24.

The Republican-backed election investigation comes after Wisconsin has completed a series of routine state election audits and a presidential recount in the state’s two largest counties, as well as an audit from the Legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. None of those reviews have uncovered widespread fraud or wrongdoing. There have also been numerous Republican-backed lawsuits in the state, all of which have failed to result in findings of wrongdoing by election officials or voters.

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