MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday blasted a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 presidential election as a “$700,000 boondoggle” and said election clerks should be “lawyered up.”
After an election audit in Arizona confirmed President Joe Biden’s win there, Republicans have focused their attention on Wisconsin, where Biden also won, and other states where they’re pursuing reviews of last year’s election.
The investigation in Wisconsin is being led by retired conservative state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. He said in a video last week that the burden will be on local election clerks to prove the election was run fairly. He also threatened to subpoena anyone who doesn’t comply.
“You don’t have to prove a negative in court, you don’t have to prove a negative in any other place except Justice Gableman’s court here,” Evers said.
The Democratic governor, who is up for reelection next year, called Gableman’s comments “a bit outrageous.”
“If I was a clerk I’d be lawyered up and make sure that you’re doing the right thing,” Evers said during a news conference at the World Dairy Expo when asked if they should comply with Gableman’s probe. “I hate to see an inquisition like this, especially when you’re being told you have to prove it was a good election. Everybody knows it was a good election. Everybody knows there was no fraud.”
Gableman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Biden’s win over former President Donald Trump by more than 20,000 votes has been upheld by numerous state and federal courts. Only four voters out of about 3 million people who cast ballots have been charged with election fraud to date.
Evers said clerks have better things to do than deal with Gableman’s investigation, which is costing taxpayers $680,000.
“It’s a $700,000 boondoggle to prove something that’s already been proven probably 100 times,” Evers said.
Gableman’s first email to election clerks confused many, as it came from a Gmail address under the name “John Delta” and contained an attachment. Many counties flagged it as a potential scam and it landed in the junk email folder for others.
Gableman emailed Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson on Sept. 22 and asked to meet with him after Christenson raised concerns about the initial communication.
“The purpose of this investigation is to restore public confidence in Wisconsin’s electoral system,” Gableman wrote.
Christenson, a Democrat in charge of elections in the state’s most populated county, responded on Monday, saying he was “eager to assist you in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of election processes, tabulations, canvassing, etc. in Milwaukee County.” He noted that Milwaukee and Dane counties, the state’s two largest, underwent a recount ordered by Trump that did not reveal widespread fraud or abuse.
Christenson suggested Gableman contact the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections statewide.
Meagan Wolfe, director of the elections commission, said Tuesday that Gableman had not contacted its office other than to request contact information for the state’s 1,800-plus local election clerks. Wolfe said when the commission tried to email Gableman an updated list of clerk emails on Monday to his Gmail account, it bounced back as undeliverable.
Gableman had emailed Christenson on a new account that ended in @wisspecialcounsel.org.
Gableman told a group of Trump supporters in November that he thought the election was stolen. A former Trump official appears to be working on the investigation. Gableman has not said who he has hired or submitted any invoices seeking payment yet.
His investigation has already drawn bipartisan criticism. Republican state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate elections committee, said earlier this month, “There is not a reason to spread misinformation about this past election when we have all the evidence that shows otherwise.”
Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who ordered the investigation and hired Gableman, said Tuesday that he had confidence in his work, which he expected to be completed in late October or early November.
“I am supremely confident that at the end of the day Justice Gableman will produce a report that shows there were issues with the 2020 election, where potentially changes could be made to make it better,” Vos said. “The goal is not to do anything to overturn the election, it’s to make sure that we have every opportunity to have confidence that the results that occurred in 2020 were accurate.”