UW experts dissect Audit Bureau’s election report on GOP-led 2020 election investigation

UW expert says Gableman investigation is 'embarrassing' for state of Wisconsin

· Nov 16, 2021 Tweet

Alice Vagun/The Badger Herald

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau’s report about the Wisconsin 2020 presidential election headed by state Republicans claims to have found issues with the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s administration of the election.

The audit found inconsistencies in the administration of the 2020 election but no widespread fraud. The results of the audit are centered around first of two investigative reports Republican lawmakers have requested.

Findings in the audit found four people may have voted twice out of over three million ballots total. Eleven people died before Nov. 3 and eight people with ongoing felony sentences may have voted. Test of voting machines found that 59 of 60 machines tested accurately counted ballots, though the one out of 60 was docked because of insufficient information about whether the machine worked or not.

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According to the audit, the Wisconsin Elections Commission gave guidance to election officials that were not compliant with state law. The audit cites examples such as WEC deciding election officials could adjourn for the night without counting all ballots and moved polling places not getting signatures from the Department of Transportation for people who voted online.

But WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe claimed the audit contains multiple errors, according to US News. Specifically, Wolfe noted a section of the report pertaining to information the agency obtains through nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center — which flags voters who may have moved — contained inaccuracies.

“We’re pleased that overall, the LAB report confirmed the November 2020 general election was conducted accurately and fairly,” Wolfe said in a press release. “And while there’s always more to be done to ensure consistent election administration in Wisconsin, and we’re working on that every day, we also know there are some misconceptions and misunderstandings built into the LAB’s findings, and that record needs to be corrected.”

Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin Political Science professor and director of Elections Research Center, said his takeaway from the report is that the election was conducted fairly and safely, but there are inconsistencies and ambiguities that need addressing.

Even with the audit’s findings, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and the Assembly Republicans are set to conduct a second investigation into the election.

GOP leaders announced their plans for a second investigation in October, with Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu stating the authorization for this second investigation comes as a result of findings in the audit bureau’s report.

Burden said he believes Gableman’s investigation has several issues, including a lack of clear goals, unknown knowledge about the personnel conducting the investigation and whether they’ve been hired on taxpayer dollars.

“The Gableman investigation is hugely problematic,” Burden said. “It’s being staffed mostly with people who are supporters of Trump and skeptical and distrustful of the 2020 presidential election results. They bring to it a real bias that’s likely to influence the kind of investigation they do.”

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Burden said Gableman’s investigative process is likely to make people more doubtful about the election process.

UW political communication and election expert Michael Wagner said his research shows people who get information from right-wing sources are less likely to trust the election results and are less likely to endorse other kinds of democratic attitudes.

“There are definitely some potential long-term consequences,” Wagner said. “The main takeaway is that Wisconsin elections are administered very well and there’s no reason to believe that the results are in doubt.”

But Wagner also said there are improvements to be made in the election administration process. He said it’s not surprising there are inconsistencies and shortcomings given the fact Wisconsin has been investing less into its election administration.

Wagner said he is not very hopeful the legislature will take necessary steps to ensure implementation of such improvements.

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“I would say it’s been pretty embarrassing for the state and an example of an incredibly poorly run investigation,” Wagner said. “Our state has had such a strong reputation for good governance for so long, investigations like this threw that reputation out the window.”

Wagner said if the GOP and Gableman’s goal is to make people doubt the veracity of elections, the former Supreme Court justice is succeeding.

Burden said both investigations could have effects on the UW campus and beyond if they cause the commission to write new rules about elections.

“[The Commission] is being urged to do that by the Audit Bureau or if the state legislature passes new policies and those get passed, signed into law by Gov. Evers,” Burden said. “There are some practices Madison students use pretty heavily, like absentee voting, drop boxes and others that may get different treatment as a result of some of these investigations and reports.”

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