A Thursday press conference by the Racine County Sheriff's Office accused the government officials in charge of administering Wisconsin's election laws of breaking those election laws. The Sheriff and his lead investigator said that the state Attorney General's office has known about the case since March but decided there is "nothing to see here."
Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and the lead investigator Sergeant Michael Luell answered questions and presented documentation which is hosted for the public in a dropbox folder called 'Election Integrity.' That link was posted to Facebook along with the Livestream video of the conference. The documentation includes a complete timeline of the potentially criminal events and a slideshow presentation of the facts of the investigation.
The crimes relate to absentee votes by nursing home residents whose family members say they lacked the cognitive ability to cast them. Sgt. Luell investigated and found 8 such votes at that facility. "It's already done," Luell said, "They have committed crime after crime after crime."
"It doesn't matter who you vote for or how you voted or what side of the party line you are; this is a problem," said Schmaling. "This is a law that was broken."
The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) had given guidance to loosen requirements on absentee ballots coming from nursing homes during the pandemic. According to the Sheriff's slideshow presentation, letters sent out by WEC stated, "Municipalities shall not use the Special Voting Deputy process," a process in place to prevent vulnerable registered voters from having absentee ballots cast in their names without consent.
Staff at the residential care facility that Luell investigated are said to have asked residents what party they voted for in the past and filled out ballots along party lines based on the answer.
Luell gave nearly 40 minutes of explanation of the documentation provided, followed by the question and answer session. At one point, he stated:
"I think we all embrace the idea that voting is good, but manipulating people, taking advantage of people, preying on people who are in cognitive decline—I think that's some of the concerns that the families have, some of the concerns that I have, and frankly I think it's some of the concerns that the public will have.
At the end of our interviews, they provided me with copies of the applications for absentee ballots, and they provided me with the ballot envelopes; we will never see the ballots; we'll never know how the ballots voted. We don't care. We're not trying to change one vote; we're not trying to change one election. We're trying to hold our government accountable and force them to follow the laws that they pass."
Schmaling stated that he and Luell are the factfinders; the decision of bringing charges is left up to the District Attorneys' office. No one has been taken into custody.
"Where do we go from here? We're just one of 72 counties. Ridgewood is one of 11 type facilities within our county. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of these facilities throughout the entire state of Wisconsin. We would be foolish [to think this] violation of a statute occurred to just a small group of people at one care facility, in one county in the entire state. I would submit to you that the Attorney General should launch an immediate investigation into the Wisconsin Elections Commission and restore some level of integrity and trust back into our elections system. At the end of the day, we all want to have fair elections. We all want to make certain that our vote counts, and when people break the law, we all want them held accountable."
Racine County is the 5th most populous county in Wisconsin. It is located on Lake Michigan in the far southeastern corner, just south of Milwaukee and an hour north of suburban Chicago.
The officers indicated that the laws found to be broken might not be best handled within their jurisdiction, but as a statewide investigation by Attorney General Josh Kaul. Schmaling stated, "We need to start at the top where this occurred. That is not my decision," followed by Luell's statement that, "This is, quite frankly, a state-level case. People above my pay grade ultimately make those decisions."
In explanation, Luell said:
"The unfortunate consequence of not following the law is having people victimized, but the crime is not necessarily having these people victimized. The crime according to the statute is the Wisconsin Elections Commission telling other officials of the vote to not follow the law."
Luell explained that there might be a bottleneck at the state level on taking on the case, however, and added that they first notified the Attorney General sometime around March:
"We're not kicking the can down the road, but we have a criminal justice system. There's police officers, there's prosecutors, there's judges, there's prisons. Everyone has a part to this system. We're asking for the people next in line to take their part and to do their job. The Sheriff has called for a statewide investigation. The Sheriff has offered my documents, my reports, to the Attorney General's office. They chose not to accept those reports. That was earlier in the year, say Marchish. We're extending our offer again."
And Schmaling added:
"We spoke with them on a conference line, and we explained the investigation that was unfolding. I felt as we are probably all thinking today that this is going to turn into a statewide investigation, so I wanted to bring them on board early on. I've offered all of our investigative reports; we have nothing to hide. I think everyone in this room would agree that Sargeant Luell certainly has some talents here and is sort of an expert. I offered to send him to Madison to assist their investigators. That offer was declined. They decided that there was nothing to see here."
Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin called the press conference a "publicity stunt" and "waste of taxpayer money" that may have revealed evidence that the Sheriff's department itself broke the law "during their own farce of an investigation."
Gillian Drummond, Director of Communications for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is quoted by multiple sources as saying:
"DOJ was previously in contact with Sheriff Schmaling, and DOJ advised that certain interviews be conducted that had not been at that time. Significantly, no charges have been filed in this case by the Racine County DA's office. DOJ is also currently not aware of similar allegations anywhere else in Wisconsin."
Representative Janel Brandtjen, who has called for a full forensic audit in Wisconsin, called WEC's conduct "felony election fraud." Senator Ron Johnson said it may "only be [the] tip of the iceberg" and remarked, "If Democrats will stoop this low to impact elections, one can only imagine what else they're willing to do."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who created and funded an office of Special Counsel to investigate election crimes in Wisconsin, called WEC guidance "clear violations and law-breaking" and "severe mismanagement," calling for administrator Meagan Wolfe's resignation. Wolfe is quoted in multiple outlets as saying that the discussion among Commission members as to whether to provide pandemic guidance for absentee voting in nursing homes was public all along and is not new information.
Representative Joe Sanfelippo, who less than a week after the 2020 election wanted to "hold off on certifying the election results until the investigation is complete," pending a "complete and in-depth investigative audit," says now:
"I am calling for the immediate dismissal of Meagan Wolfe as the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Administrator as well as the WEC staff who gave advice to break the law and members of the Elections Commission who voted to break the law. Those actions are the very definition of malfeasance in office. And if the Wisconsin Attorney General continues to refuse to uphold the law, then he should resign, too. It has become abundantly clear that a statewide investigation similar to what was done in Racine is necessary. All Wisconsinites, Republicans and Democrats alike, deserve to know which state laws were broken and who should be held accountable."
In addition to this local Racine investigation, Wisconsin's State Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) completed an elections administration audit on Oct. 22 that found illegal ballots and potentially unlawful conduct by the WEC beyond the nursing homes guidance. Directives on absentee voters, indefinitely confined voters, dropboxes, relocating polling places, and adjourning on election night were all cited as potentially against the statute. Inconsistent voter roll procedure and failure to audit electronic voting equipment accuracy by the WEC were also noted.
The LAB report found illegal ballots and anomalies on far more ballots than the ~20,000 vote margin that gave the state's electoral votes to Joe Biden, lending credence to an independent analysis by Look Ahead America released in July.
UPDATE: Racine Sheriff has sent a criminal referral to the County District Attorney, announced in a press release.