MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor who has Donald Trump's endorsement won't rule out attempting to decertify President Joe Biden's 2020 win in the battleground state, even though GOP legislative leaders and attorneys from both sides have dismissed the idea as impossible and unconstitutional.
Tim Michels, co-owner of the state's largest construction company, Michels Corp, told WKOW-TV on Tuesday that he would “need to see the details” when asked if he would sign a bill to decertify the election results. Michels' refusal to rule out the idea came days after Trump renewed his call for decertification following a 4-3 ruling by the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal.
Trump and others who support decertification, including Republican state Rep. Tim Ramthun, who is also running for governor, argue that the court's ruling invalidates the 2020 results, when COVID-19 vaccines weren't yet available and absentee drop boxes were in wide use. Ramthun is only calling for the presidential race to be decertified — not his race nor anyone else's from 2020 or earlier. Ballot boxes were also in use in 2016, and he’s not calling for decertification of the 2016 presidential race that was won by Trump.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has said he believes there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election even though there is no evidence of that, has refused to decertify the results, saying it would be impossible. Vos, who is being challenged in the Aug. 9 primary by a supporter of decertification, declined to comment about Michels' stance.
Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, a result that has withstood recounts in the state's two largest counties, multiple lawsuits, a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative law firm. An investigation by a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Vos did not turn evidence that would have warranted overturning the election results.
Polls show that Michels is in a tight Republican primary race against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, with Ramthun a distant third. The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in a race that's expected to shatter state spending records and is a top priority for both parties nationally.
“You know, I have to get sworn in as governor first, and we have a lot of work to do to get there,” Michels told WKOW when first asked if he’d pursue decertification. “Fortunately, it’s looking good. We’re surging in the polls. We’re leading this.”
When pressed, Michels said: “You know, I have to work with the Legislature and see what these bills look like. As a businessman, I just don’t say, ‘I’ll do this or I’ll do that.’ It’s always about the details. I need to see what bills are gonna look like.”
When asked again if he wasn't taking a stand on decertification, he replied, “Need to see the details.”
Kleefisch has said she believes the 2020 election was “rigged," but she has stopped short of calling for decertification, saying there is “no clear path” to overturning the results. Ramthun is the loudest advocate for decertification, a cause he took up again on Tuesday by reintroducing a legislative resolution to overturn the results.
All three of the Republican candidates support doing away with the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees election administration in the state. They also support banning private grant money for running elections, like what more than 200 Wisconsin communities received in 2020 from a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and making it more difficult to vote absentee.
Evers has repeatedly vetoed Republican-authored bills that would make it more difficult to vote absentee in the presidential swing state. Asked at a rally Wednesday about Michels' comments, he said that Republicans will continue pushing decertification “until Donald Trump is 6 feet under.” Evers said if a Republican is elected governor, that person would give the Legislature the power to certify elections.
“And that should scare the crap out of everybody in this room,” Evers said.