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The Gableman mess culminates in a fevered flop

Republicans’ sham election investigation confirms their delusional priors and not much else.

Republicans’ sham election investigation confirms their delusional priors and not much else.

Illustration: Stills from Michael Gableman’s March 1, 2022, testimony before the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections are processed through distorted filters and visual effects. Multiples of Gableman’s face show the variety of intense and befuddled expressions he made during his presentation. Source images via Wisconsin Eye.

One of the most shocking things about former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman’s “investigation” into the 2020 election is that—after six months of error-ridden subpoenas, threats to jail public officials, and hours of belligerent testimony where he balked at having to answer basic questions on how he was using taxpayer dollars on this unaccountable Robin Vos pet project—he has so little to show for it. 

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On Tuesday, Gableman released his 136-page report and testified before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections behind a lectern that he brought—normally people testify before committees seated behind a table.

The report repeats many of the same allegations of voter fraud Gableman made before he was even hired, for which Republicans have failed to provide any evidence. (Because there isn’t any.) Multiple court cases, a legislative audit, and even a report from the far-right Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty found no evidence of fraudulent ballots or widespread voter fraud. 

Gableman started out his presentation with a mea culpa to the Assembly Democrats, particularly Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), for his unhinged testimony in December. While he tried to maintain a calm demeanor, he stated that Wisconsin should recall its 2020 electors—which nonpartisan legal counsel said is not an option and which even Republican leadership has stated it has no interest in pursuing.

Spreitzer asked Gableman if he could provide any details about alleged incidents of voter fraud—any names, evidence, or referrals to district attorneys for prosecution. Gableman asked him to submit a request in writing.

Pushing back against criticism of his subpoenas and demands that officials testify privately, Gableman actually had the gall to compare his investigation with the federal January 6 Commission’s, describing it as an investigation of “one discrete incident on one day that resulted in some damage at the Capitol.”

Spreitzer also asked Gableman why his report was coming out a week after the Republican leadership wrapped up the legislative session for the year and it was too late for the Assembly to take up his recommendations. Gableman, whose investigation was, again, personally commissioned by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said that the timing was not coordinated but that he could not provide further details. 

While Gableman’s contract expired at the end of 2021, he said his investigation was not over.

Saying the quiet part out loud

The central pillar of Gableman’s investigation was a series of grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonprofit, which received funding from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Over 200 communities received funding through this program, but Gableman zeroed in on the funds that went to Wisconsin’s five largest cities to assist with administering the 2020 election. Republicans launched multiple lawsuits over the grants even before the election and all were shot down.

During his presentation on the CTCL grants, Gableman said the quiet part out loud, arguing that the reason he saw “get out the vote” initiatives in those communities as partisan is because those large urban areas are home to more people of color, and people of color tend to vote for Democrats. 

Gableman and others have developed collective amnesia (or at least hope the public has) over the disastrous spring election in 2020, which Wisconsin Republicans had refused to delay despite an escalating pandemic. While Assembly Leader Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was decked out in PPE telling people it was “incredibly safe,” voters waited in line for hours because so many elderly poll workers quit that cities had to close multiple polling locations. The City of Milwaukee had only five polling locations. 

The Legislature was on its nine-month vacation ahead of the fall 2020 election, so it didn’t respond to requests from municipalities for more funding, even though the Presidential election was expected to have record turnout during a pandemic. 

This recent history was also conveniently forgotten during Gableman’s presentation on the Wisconsin Election Commission’s (WEC) decision not to send out voting deputies to nursing homes. So many nursing homes were not allowing visitors that WEC instead decided to implement an ad hoc solution so that seniors would not be disenfranchised by the pandemic.

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Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling portrayed WEC’s actions as “illegal,” even though Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson (a Republican) had declined to prosecute the case, citing lack of jurisdiction.

In a particularly ugly moment during his presentation on Tuesday, Gableman showed video footage of some of the seniors being questioned by Erick Kaardal of the Thomas More Society on political candidates and policy, in an attempt to demonstrate their “incompetence.”

WEC Chair Ann Jacobs tweeted that those interviews were irrelevant as to whether those seniors had the right to vote. 

“People in nursing homes are not required to complete push-polls to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Jacobs said. “You are allowed to vote for a candidate for any reason you choose.”

Overlapping investigations

The same day Gableman testified, the Thomas More Society, Wisconsin Voters Alliance (WVA)—far right groups behind several lawsuits to overturn the election results—and Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), chair of the Assembly Campaigns and Elections committee, held a press conference reinforcing Gableman’s allegations of voter fraud. 

Gableman had told lawmakers that he was sharing office space with the Thomas More Society to save taxpayer dollars, and that the group was not involved with his investigation. 

After Phil Kline, director of the Thomas More Society’s Amistad Project, which filed multiple lawsuits contesting the election on behalf of former President Donald Trump, tweeted that he was “proud of our involvement in the Wisconsin Special Counsel investigation,” the organization has done little to hide its connection to Gableman’s bumbling investigation. 

Ron Heuer, President of WVA, opened the press conference stating that his organization worked with the Thomas More Society. Gableman named Heuer as a member of his staff in his December testimony before the Assembly committee.

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