Brief

Racine Co. Sheriff refers criminal charges against five elections commissioners

By: - November 3, 2021 4:36 pm
Racine election investigation

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office alleges the Wisconsin Election Commission broke the law last year by preventing special voting deputies from entering nursing homes to help people vote. (Screenshot | Racine County Sheriff’s Office Facebook)

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling announced in a news release Wednesday that he had referred recommendations for criminal charges against five of the six members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson, a Republican. 

Last week, Schmaling called a news conference to lay out allegations of election fraud against the commissioners but said he hadn’t sent the investigation to the DA and was instead calling for a statewide investigation into the matter from Attorney General Josh Kaul. After Kaul declined to open an investigation, Schmaling sent his recommendations, which include felony charges. 

Schmaling and his investigator allege that when the WEC voted unanimously in Spring 2020 not to send special voting deputies (SVDs) into nursing home facilities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d broken the law. SVDs are pairs of people appointed by local election clerks to go to nursing homes to assist with voting. At the time of the unanimous vote, visitors weren’t being allowed into nursing homes to protect residents from the virus so the WEC voted to forgo the two visits SVDs are required to attempt to make to nursing homes and instead use the normal absentee ballot process. 

Schmaling alleged that once the residents of a Mount Pleasant nursing home used the absentee ballot process, they were illegally coerced by facility staff into voting. Schmaling said some of the residents were cognitively impaired. People with cognitive disabilities are still able to vote unless a judge declares them incompetent. 

After Schmaling’s news conference last week, members of the commission and its staff forcefully denied that any laws were broken. Instead they’ve said that without the decision to forgo the SVD process, residents of nursing home facilities would have been disenfranchised. 

“To put it simply, we did not break the law,” Commission Chair Ann Jacobs said in a statement last week. “In fact, without action from the Commission, many residents in Wisconsin care facilities could have and would have been disenfranchised and not able to vote in the 2020 elections.”

Schmaling recommended that five commissioners, Margaret Bostelmann, Julie Glancey, Ann Jacobs,  Dean Knudson and Mark Thomsen, be charged with felony misconduct in public office, felony election fraud and three counts of misdemeanor election fraud.

Misconduct in public office and election fraud, are Class I felonies, each is punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

Schmaling did not refer charges for Republican election commissioner Robert Spindell, even though Spindell joined the body in its first vote to forgo the SVD process. Schmaling said in the release that it wasn’t “appropriate” to refer charges for Spindell because he had voted against forgoing the SVD process in later meetings. 

Spindell has been previously accused of violating election laws after he attempted to cast an Electoral College vote for Donald Trump even though Joe Biden had won the election in Wisconsin. 

The investigation from the Racine County Sheriff’s Office has further emboldened Republicans still seeking to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election a full year after it was held. After Schmaling’s news conference, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called for the resignation of WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe. 

In a news conference on Monday, Wolfe defended the commissioners’ SVD decision and dismissed attacks against her as “partisan politics at its worst.” 

A charging recommendation referred to the district attorney from a law enforcement agency does not mean charges will ultimately be filed. The Racine County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment. 

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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