By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Republican district attorney and candidate for attorney general on Tuesday filed a lawsuit with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers seeking the removal of five members of Wisconsin’s bipartisan Elections Commission, even though a lawyer for the Legislature says he can only remove two.
Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney filed a lawsuit with Evers asking him to remove two Republicans and three Democrats from the council because they did not allow special voting deputies in the houses of retirement in 2020 to help residents vote.
The Election Commission’s ruling on nursing homes has been cited by Republican critics of the way this election has unfolded as opening the door to potential voter fraud at nursing homes. The Racine County sheriff, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, has called for the council members to be prosecuted, but no prosecutor has filed charges. The action was also cited in a widely discredited report by Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice hired by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to investigate the election.
The Racine County district attorney, a Republican, declined to press charges against the commission members in February, saying she lacked jurisdiction because none of them live in her county. District attorneys in Milwaukee and Green Lake counties also declined to press charges, saying there was not enough evidence to prove commission members living in those counties committed a crime.
Toney said he also had no jurisdiction, but could ask Evers to remove board members.
“They’ve gone rogue,” Toney said of the commissioners. “What they did was illegal. They committed crimes and they should be held accountable.
An election commission spokesman, Riley Vetterkind, had no immediate comment. Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback referred to Evers’ past comments in defense of the commission’s actions.
Toney insisted that Evers had the legal power to remove the commissioners. But a nonpartisan attorney at the office who advises the Legislative Assembly said Evers could only remove the two commission members he appointed. The other three — two Democrats and one Republican — could be removed by the legislative leaders who appointed them, Legislative Council attorney Peggy Hurley said.
Toney also asked the Election Commission itself to refer the case to county prosecutors to pursue charges. And if no charges are brought, he asks that a special prosecutor be appointed. This is highly unlikely to happen, as the commissioners he wants to see criminally charged would have to vote to send the case back for investigation.
Toney’s Republican challenger in the Aug. 9 primary for attorney general, Adam Jarchow, called the complaint a “political stunt.”
“My goal is to restore order and keep our citizens safe in Milwaukee, Green Bay and other places in the state where violence is spiraling out of control,” Jarchow said in a statement.
The winner of the primary will face Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul in November.
State law requires local election clerks to send so-called special voting deputies to nursing homes to give residents the opportunity to vote. After trying to make two visits, MPs can mail ballots to residents instead.
But at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Wisconsin Elections Commission made its decision not to send deputies, the state was under a safer-at-home order and nursing homes severely limited the number of people who can enter their facilities, often not. even allowing immediate family members to enter.
The March 2020 Election Commission voted unanimously that election workers could not be sent to nursing homes. The committee voted 5-1 in two follow-up votes extending the order until the November 2020 election before overturning it in March 2021. Instead of sending voting MPs, the committee ordered clerks to send absentee ballots to nursing home residents who requested them. .
Toney was not seeking the removal of the only commissioner who changed his vote, Republican Bob Spindell.
The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Office determined that the commission broke the law by not sending the voting aides.
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