MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An email signed by the leader of a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin sent to county clerks on Monday raised security concerns about its authenticity and what measures would be taken to protect sensitive information requested.
The message signed by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading the probe, asked clerks to retain all records related to the election and notify him if any had been destroyed. It comes after Gableman initially asked the Wisconsin Election Commission for the data. But elections are run locally and all of the ballots, voting machines and other data are maintained by county and municipal officials.
The email, which was signed by Gableman but came from a gmail.com address from someone named John Delta, raised security concerns in the state's two largest counties.
“I cannot confirm the authenticity of its origin,” wrote Dane County senior systems administrator Brian Wimann to County Clerk Scott McDonell. “I would strongly recommend against replying to it with any information. If these actions are in an official capacity, I would expect it to come from an email account with an official Wisconsin.gov email address.”
Wimann also said that the county had received no verification of any operational security practices from the special counsel.
“I would not recommend any disclosure of sensitive information until official channels of communication have been established and verified,” Wimann wrote to McDonell.
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said the email went to his junk folder initially and he only found it after reading news accounts that it had been sent.
“I just think it’s strange. It doesn’t seem very professional to me," Christenson said. "He should have some sort of secure email through the Assembly if he's got that authorization. Everything about this has been done unprofessionally and haphazardly.”
Gableman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. An email sent to the address that made the request signed by Gableman did not immediately respond to questions about the security concerns.
The email signed by Gableman said that he also intends to contact every municipal clerk once he obtains the emails from the state election commission. In the meantime, he asks the county clerks to forward his request to retain the records.
McDonell said he had to talk with his staff before knowing how he would respond to the email signed by Gableman. Christenson said Milwaukee County was retaining all election information as required by law.
“We certainly aren’t going to turn over anything until we know it would be secure, whether or not we turn it over at all," he said.
State law requires clerks to save records related to voting for 22 months after an election. The language specifically includes memory devices but says nothing about voting equipment itself or the software that supports it.
The email signed by Gableman said his request covers “otherwise routine software updates to election systems that might have in the past or will in the future corrupt or erase and/or otherwise compromise relevant records, or which might obstruct examination and investigation.”
President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by just over 20,000 votes in Wisconsin. The results survived recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and numerous court challenges, but some Republicans are pushing for broader reviews of how the election was run.
Republican lawmakers have said their intention is not to overturn Biden's win, but to look for ways to make future elections more secure. Democrats, and some Republicans, have said they are trying to undermine faith in elections, which evidence has repeatedly shown were fair and accurate.
Republican lawmakers ordered a review, which is ongoing, by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, under pressure from Trump and those who believe the election was stolen, ordered a separate investigation led by Gableman.
On Friday, about 100 people who don't trust the audit bureau or Gableman to do fair investigations, called on Vos and other legislative Republican leaders to get behind a “full forensic physical and cyber audit."
Calls for election reviews come as prosecutors in Wisconsin have brought election fraud charges against just two people out of about 3.3 million who voted.