With little understanding of election laws, Gableman backs off on subpoenas

By: - October 8, 2021 1:49 pm
Michael Gableman talks about election audit and fraud

Michael Gableman | Up Front screen shot

Update: On Friday, after Gableman rescinded his subpoenas, a nonpartisan government watchdog group filed a lawsuit against the Assembly to force the release of records from Gableman and his staff. The group, American Oversight, is represented by Madison-based law firm Pines Bach. 

American Oversight had filed a records request for the documents this summer and filed the lawsuit after waiting months to receive anything from the investigators. Just hours after the lawsuit was filed in Dane County Circuit Court, a judge ordered that the records be released “immediately,” ruling that as the Assembly’s investigator is requesting records from local governments, the investigation is refusing to provide records to the public. 

The judge, Valerie Bailey-Rihn, wrote in her order that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Jim Steineke “unjustifiably withheld and refused to release the contractor records to which the Petitioner is entitled.” The Assembly leaders must turn over the records or prove why they can’t at a hearing scheduled for Nov. 5

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s partisan inquisition into unproven claims of fraud in last year’s presidential election has become more muddled over the last week. 

Gableman is looking into the results of the election on behalf of Assembly Republicans. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has given Gableman $680,000 of taxpayer money to fund the probe and has authorized subpoenas for officials in Wisconsin’s biggest cities. 

Gableman had issued subpoenas to the election officials and mayors of Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine requesting interviews and documents. Just days after the subpoenas were issued to the mayors, who had said they would comply with the interview requests, Gableman rescinded them. 

The subpoenas would have covered thousands of records created during last year’s election and had previously been made public through open records requests. Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the records would have been provided if Gableman and his staff had just asked for them. 

“They could have just called us up and asked for the information, which they didn’t and as far as I have known never have done,” she said. “And so if they need any additional information that we haven’t already produced, they really can just call us and ask or they can make an open records request. It’s not complicated.”

The state’s five biggest cities have already been subject to a number of lawsuits and investigations over how the election was handled, with all of them finding that nothing was wrong. Republican officials in Wisconsin have frequently claimed the 2020 election was stolen and focused on grants those cities, among others, received from a nonprofit funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

There is no proof the election, which Joe Biden won by more than 20,000 votes, was stolen. 

Gableman and his staff have also said they have little knowledge of election administration or the relevant state and federal laws. 

“No one can call elections laws common sense,” Gableman told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Once you understand them, it may be common sense but it’s not intuitive,” Gableman said this week. “And so most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.”

The former judge is also working with a lawyer who worked in the White House under former President Donald Trump. That lawyer, Andrew Kloster, has also said the 2020 election was stolen and told the Assembly Elections Committee in March he has a “limited understanding” of election laws.

Gableman’s investigation is one of three reviews of last year’s election currently underway. Assembly Elections Committee chair Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) is conducting her own investigation and the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau is also looking into claims of fraud. 

Pointing to  the public response to their own false claims of fraud, Republicans have used the doubt they’ve sown to justify a number of bills that would change election administration in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed all of them, telling the New York Times he’s had to be “play goalie” in his job.


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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.