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Capital City Sunday: Investigating the election, plead for a statewide health order and black voter turnout

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11-13 Cap City Guests

MADISON (WKOW) -- Shortly after the presidential race was called, state Republicans began preparing to investigate the results in Wisconsin, even while admitting their investigation likely wouldn't change the outcome.

The GOP-led Committee on Campaigns and Elections plans to issue their first subpoenas this week to examine the election after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) asked the committee to investigate how the election was administered. Last week Vos acknowledged the investigation likely wouldn't change the outcome, but is still supportive of GOP efforts.

"I think it’s unlikely, but I don’t know that. That’s why you have an investigation,” Vos said.

This comes after the Trump campaign claims there were irregularities in Wisconsin's election, but the campaign has not provided evidence to support this.

Republicans on the committee are questioning witness signatures on absentee ballots and the thousands of voters who claimed they were indefinitely confined, which doesn't require them to show a copy of their photo ID to obtain a ballot.  

Sachin Chheda, a Democratic strategist, says Republican's claims continue to undermind the integrity of the electoral process.

"This is really throwing mud on the process to try and undermind the confidence of the results," Chheda said.

Rick Esenberg, president and chief legal counsel with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, believes an investigation won't alter the results but it could provide clarity to voters and boost confidence in the process.

"My advice to Republicans is when there are allegations of political wrongdoings, carefully vet them," Esenberg said. "I think they should accept the results when the lawyers come to a conclusion."

Three voters in Northeastern Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit seeking to exclude election ballots in Dane, Milwaukee and Menominee counties. The lawsuit claims, without evidence, voters in those counties may have bypassed state law, requiring voters to provide a photo ID by declaring themselves indefinitely confined.

The current law doesn't require people to provide proof of an ID if they apply for a certification declaring them infinitely confined whether it be due to age, physical illness, infirmity or are disabled for an indefinite period.

WEC does not allow using the confined status as a way to avoid using a photo ID, instead, it's was an option thousands of more voters used this year due to the pandemic.

Republican lawmakers are debating making changes to the law, but it would have to be approved by the governor.

"Going forward, let's evaluate why this happened, why was their a substantial increase, was it related to the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, is there anything we need to do about that?" Esenberg said.

Chheda believes the law could undergo further scrutiny, but says it's an important option right now during a health crisis.

"It's perfectly reasonable to question the intent of the law but my concern is argument is being used to cast doubt to undermine the confidence in the results from the election," he said.

Statewide Restrictions to Combat COVID-19 Surge

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is asking legislative leaders to enact their counties COVID-19 restrictions for the next 30 days to slow the spread.

"Wisconsin needs a Covid-19 break," Parisi said.

Dane County public health order is one of the strictest in the state, such as capacity limits on bars and restaurants and limiting mass gatherings. It's a model Parsi wants Republicans to consider statewide. 

In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Senate Majority Leader-elect Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Parisi asked the legislature to sit down with the governor and enact without delay a statewide public health order.

“I think we all need to speak up and call them out … if we can’t come together now, when can we come together?”

Parisi said he has not heard back from Republicans but stressed the longer it takes for lawmakers to figure out a plan to address surging COVID-19 infections, more people will die.

“They have to be held accountable because people are losing their lives because of the inaction by state government."

Governor Evers has enacted several executive orders aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but each time his orders have been challenged or struck down in court.

When asked if Parisi is encouraging surrounding counties to consider their approach, he said Republican lawmakers are “warning” them to not listen to him. 

“People have been intimidated by members of the Republican legislature who have warned them not to work with me.”

Parisi’s plea to lawmakers comes as the state is recording more than 7,000 new infections a day and hospitals are on the tipping point of not being able to have enough beds to treat patients. 

WEB EXTRA: CONTINUING COVERAGE ON LAWSUITS CHALLENGING ELECTION LAWS

Black Voter Turnout

More people voted than ever before in this presidential election in Wisconsin, over 3.2 million, but in some areas turnout among African American’s was essentially the same compared to 2016.

Four years ago black voter turnout in Dane and Milwaukee county was low which impacted Hillary Clinton's campaign. This year, Joe Biden picked up close to 6,000 more votes in Milwaukee compared to 2016, according to unofficial results.

Democrats knew they had to encourage more black and brown people to participate but the margin in Milwaukee didn’t meet expectations.

Shautay Nelson, Wisconsin’s director of All Voting is Local, believes it could be because some voters might not have felt encouraged to vote.

“I often say if a candidate doesn’t connect to a person’s everyday living experience we have a less likely chance of engaging momentum around that election,” Nelson said.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin held dozens of ‘Get Out the Vote’ events and encouraged people to vote by mail, efforts Nelson believes helped.

Some African Americans might not have felt motivated to vote because of rhetoric regarding attempts to suppress the vote such as President Trump’s baseless claims voting by mail would lead to fraud.

“Many individuals saw with their own eyes attempts to suppress and silence the vote,” Nelson said.

Moving forward, Nelson said she’s continuing to work on ways to remove barriers to voting in Wisconsin to increase participation in elections.

In 2020, there was an effort by a conservative group aiming to remove up to 129,000 voters from the state's voter rolls, a panel of federal judges upheld a Republican law restricting early voting to two weeks before an election, and now, new voters must prove their place of residency for at least 28 days rather than 10.

These are all tactics Nelson believes disproportionately impact people of color.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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