MADISON, Wisconsin – Denying Wisconsin state auditors access to actual ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election is “arguably justifiable” based on guidelines from the US Department of Justice, said lawyers for the legislature in a note released Wednesday.
The Legislative Audit Bureau’s non-partisan report released Friday said election clerks for the City of Madison, Milwaukee County and two Little Suamico did not allow listeners to physically manipulate the ballots. Republicans grabbed hold of it, saying clerks were promoting secrecy, undermining their credibility, and GOP Senate leaders on Monday promised an investigation into what happened.
The clerks defended their action, saying listeners could see the ballots, they just couldn’t physically manipulate them as they are not allowed to do so under federal law. Madison’s clerk wrote to listeners in August, telling them there was no information or data available in the records that could be obtained by physically manipulating them that could not be obtained by viewing copies or by other means.
Attorneys for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, who advise lawmakers, were questioned by Senate Democratic Minority Leader Janet Bewley about who can legally access the ballots.
The attorneys’ analysis cites guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice in July, requiring election materials to be retained by election officials and placed under their supervision.
“It is arguably reasonable to only allow clerks’ staff to physically manage election records based on US Department of Justice guidelines,” wrote Anne Sappenfeld, director of the Wisconsin Legislative Council and staff attorney Peggy Hurley .
In addition, the potential for criminal prosecution if they fail to properly keep and preserve records also rests with the clerks, said Sappenfeld and Hurley.
The lawyers also said that based on the audit, it emerged that other election clerks interpreted the guidelines differently and provided auditors with better access to election materials.
“It could be due to legal interpretation or practice,” the lawyers wrote. “However, it could also be due to the extent to which individual clerks believe they can protect records physically handled by a third party.”
Bewley, in a statement she released with the legal note, called the ongoing Senate investigation “ill-advised” and said she “will do nothing to restore confidence in the administration and the results. of our elections. In fact, it seems designed to do the exact opposite. “
“Haven’t we had enough already?” said Bewley.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Audit Office, in its Friday report, made 48 recommendations and possible legislative changes to improve the conduct of elections, including adopting rules on whether ballot boxes should be allowed and whether missing information on ballot envelopes. Postal ballots should be completed by election officials.
A separate partisan inquiry is also being conducted by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. He was hired by Republican Assembly President Robin Vos.
President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes, a result that has withstood recounts, court challenges and audit office scrutiny that found no widespread fraud. Only four of the more than 3 million people who voted in Wisconsin have been charged with voter fraud.