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Assembly elections committee hears claims of improper conduct

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state Assembly's committee on campaigns and elections held a general election review Wednesday in which only speakers it invited could testify.

Much of the discussion centered around the conduct of those involved with running the election night tabulation in Green Bay, one of five Wisconsin cities to receive funding last year from the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

That organization received $400 million in funding from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Sandy Juno, who was Brown County Clerk in November but has since retired, alleged a consultant from a third-party group had inappropriate access to Green Bay's central counting location.

According to the right-wing outlet, Wisconsin Spotlight, emails from the mayor's office detailed how Green Bay used the little more than $1 million it received to hire the National Vote at Home Institute.

An employee of that group, Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, who previously had worked as an operative on Democratic campaigns came to Green Bay and, per emails, was given access to election administration materials by the mayor's office.

Juno alleged the office of Mayor Eric Genrich gave the outside consultant far too much authority and access, alleging Wednesday he was advising poll workers and touching ballots.

"He had access to see how the votes were cast and when I asked him, you know, who he was and what he role was, he wouldn't respond," Juno said. "He just walked away."

The City of Green Bay said in a statement that while the contractor it hired provided "input and insight," it never had custody of any of the city's ballots.

Republicans on the committee acknowledged during Wednesday's hearing there was no evidence the consultant's access or conduct altered the outcome of the November election in any way.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) said the conduct still amounted to illegal activity and called for additional investigation in order to better secure future elections.

"I call upon the committee to exercise its investigation authority, which includes subpoena powers, in order to determine the extent to which our elections laws were, in fact, broken," Sanfelippo said. "And to identify what statutory changes may be necessary to ensure the fair conduct of future elections."

The three Democratic members of the committee, Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire), Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), and Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), said the committee's focus on cities accepting grant money from private groups only highlight the lack of proper funding the state was giving its municipal clerks.

"Today’s hearing was yet another rehash of a failed court case around the 2020 elections that Republicans already lost," the joint statement read. "Once again, the Assembly Committee on Campaigns & Elections has played host to conspiracies and falsehoods."

Madison received about $1.2 million from the center last year. Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said her office used the money to provide hazard pay for poll workers and drop boxes for absentee ballots.

"The Center for Tech and Civic Life did not administer our elections.  They provided us with funding," Witzel-Behl said. "We decided how to use the funds."

Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said Wednesday the WEC had no role in the cities applying for, receiving, or distributing the grant funds.

"It was a surprise to us when the grant awards were announced," Magney said. "WEC had no role in approving the acceptance of those funds, nor any role in how the funds were spent."

Magney did not respond to a follow-up question about whether it was appropriate under WEC guidelines for an outside contractor to advise poll workers or handle ballots, as Juno claimed happened in Green Bay.

Magney said the elections commission was not invited to speak at Wednesday's hearing.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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