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Wisconsin GOP lawmaker seeks to seize ballots and voting machines in Milwaukee and Brown counties

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MADISON – A Republican Wisconsin state lawmaker sought Friday to seize ballots and voting machines in Milwaukee and Brown counties as conservatives try to ramp up to review a presidential election that courts have already determined was decided properly.

What happens next is unclear. A June memo from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council suggests the subpoenas may not be valid because neither Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester or Assembly Chief Clerk Ted Blazel’s signatures appear on them.

Republican Rep. Janel Brandtjen of Menomonee Falls, the chairwoman of the Assembly Elections Committee, issued the subpoenas as part of a wide-ranging examination of an election Joe Biden narrowly won over Donald Trump. The subpoenas are nearly identical to a letter issued last month by a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania.

« This is not something that we’re going to be doing just in 2020. We’re going to be doing it every year going forward, » Brandtjen told hundreds gathered on the Capitol steps Friday who were demanding an expansive review of the election.

Election officials in the two counties did not react to the subpoenas or say if they would comply with them.

Only Vos has the authority to issue legislative subpoenas to compel county officials in Wisconsin to testify or produce records, according to a legal analysis by the Legislative Council provided to Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit.

« While the Assembly committee and the investigators hired are authorized to investigate elections, only the Speaker may issue a subpoena,” wrote staff attorney Peggy Hurley. Hurley noted subpoenas must include signatures from Vos and Blazel to be valid.

Spreitzer, a member of the elections committee, said he learned of the subpoenas from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter’s tweet.

“Is this just Rep. Brandtjen trying to do something ahead of the rally today that is more press release than real, or has she gotten Speaker Vos to go along with the idea of an Arizona-style audit?” Spreitzer said in an interview.

Spreitzer was referring to a controversial review of ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County ordered by Republicans in the Arizona Senate. Brandtjen and three other Wisconsin Republicans toured the Arizona audit facility in June and trumpeted the work that is being done there.

But some Republicans have joined Democrats in condemning what’s happening in Arizona as a pointless, conspiracy-fueled exercise. They question why a private firm with no history of reviewing elections is being allowed to examine ballots with microscopes and ultraviolet lights.

Spreitzer said if Vos signs off on the subpoenas it would mean “the fringe is truly running the state Assembly.”

“It would mean that he has fully caved to the extremists in his caucus,” he said. “That is obviously not a good sign for our democracy and not a good sign for any sort of rational thought prevailing in the Assembly.”

Subpoenas mirror Pennsylvania letter

The subpoenas say they are ordering Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson and Brown County Clerk Patrick Moynihan to appear before Brandtjen’s committee at noon on Sep. 7.

They say the two are required at that time to provide a host of materials, including ballots, absentee ballot envelopes, voting machines, voting software, forensic images of routers, router logs, voter rolls and a list of the dates when each voter cast a ballot.

Most of the text in the subpoenas is identical to what’s in a letter issued last month by Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano. Like his letter, Brandtjen’s subpoenas seek signature-matching software — even though Wisconsin election clerks don’t use such software because state law doesn’t require signature matches.

It is the first time in decades that a Wisconsin lawmaker has issued subpoenas. The Legislature last used subpoenas in the 1960s or possibly the 1970s, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

This summer, Vos hired former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman at taxpayer expense to review the election. Other investigators Vos hired have quit, but Vos has said Gableman can hire assistants.

Both Gableman and Vos have said they are not seeking to overturn Biden’s win in Wisconsin. Gableman is to be paid $11,000 a month through at least October. It’s unclear what other costs taxpayers could incur.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice warned states that conducting election audits similar to Arizona’s could violate federal law. The Civil Rights Act requires that election officials have custody or direct supervision of voting records for 22 months after federal elections.

« Where elections records are no longer under the control of elections officials, this can lead to a significant risk of the records being lost, stolen, altered, compromised, or destroyed, » a DOJ memo states.

Spreitzer said if an Arizona-style audit proceeds in Wisconsin, it would mean Milwaukee and Brown county officials would need to purchase all new voting machines before February’s primary election to ensure the voting machines were not subjected to tampering during the course of the committee’s review.

Democrats have called the election review deplorable because recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and a string of court rulings — including one by a federal judge nominated by Trump — have found Biden won. They have said the Republican efforts are undermining faith in democracy and contributing to death threats to election officials.

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