MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice leading Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' investigation of the November elections asked state officials Thursday to ensure that all records related to the election are preserved and to inform him of any evidence that's been destroyed.
Mike Gableman sent a letter to the Wisconsin Elections Commission asking commissioners to tell local clerks to preserve “any and all” records and evidence related to the election, including router information and computer access logs. He also asked commissioners to let him know about any intentional or unintentional destruction of records.
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.
Gableman made the request as the commission was preparing to vote on whether to authorize election equipment vendor Election Systems & Software's request to sell upgraded machines and software to local clerks.
Republicans including Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who separately is trying to launch what she refers to as a forensic investigation of the November results, have urged the commission to reject the request out of concerns that data would be lost during the upgrades.
The commission ultimately voted 4-2 to allow ES&S to sell new equipment only to clerks who don’t have existing ES&S systems, ensuring that no existing systems will be upgraded. About 760 of the state's 1,859 elections clerks used some form of ES&S equipment during the November elections, according to commission data.
The commission, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, argued for hours over what to do. The Republican commissioners weren't satisfied with repeated assurances from both ES&S officials and the commission's administrator, Meagan Wolfe, that all data required to be stored under state law would indeed be retained.
Commissioner Dean Knudson said he'd like the state to require people to vote by hand and allow only the disabled to use machines going forward.
"Touch screens just lead to distrust in our elections," he said.
The Democratic commissioners accused the Republicans of wasting time on conspiracy theories.
“(Data retention has) never been an issue in last 20 years or more we’ve had machines. Now we want to make sure we capture things that after an election is over have little or no impact on the election,” Commissioner Julie Glancey said. “We’re wasting a lot of time talking about keeping things that in the end really have no purpose.”
President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by about 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, an outcome upheld following recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and through multiple state and federal lawsuits.
Trump and some of his fellow Republicans have refused to accept his loss and have been raising questions about election integrity across the country even though there's no evidence of widespread fraud. Republican State Sen. Kathy Bernier, who chairs the Wisconsin Senate's elections committee, defended the integrity of the election on Wednesday.
“There is not a reason to spread misinformation about this past election when we have all the evidence that shows otherwise,” Bernier said,
Wisconsin Republicans have ordered the Legislature's nonpartisan auditors to review the election. Vos announced in June that he had hired Gableman to lead a separate investigation after Trump complained that Vos wasn't doing enough. Brandtjen sent subpoenas to clerks in Milwaukee and Brown counties demanding that they turn over all of their ballots and voting machines so she can review them, but the clerks have refused, saying the subpoenas aren’t valid.
The commission also voted unanimously to ask the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to declare special voting deputies who help nursing home residents vote “essential visitors to guarantee they could access the homes during the pandemic.
The commission in March 2020 barred the deputies from entering nursing homes as the pandemic was taking hold. This past March, commissioners agreed to allow them back into the facilities but has been struggling since then with how to ensure they could gain access.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this story.