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Lawmakers question WEC administrator about outside election consultants’ influence

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Meagan Wolfe told lawmakers Wednesday she got no response when she tried to follow up on complaints from Green Bay elections officials about the alleged involvement of an outside consultant.

The complaints from the now-former clerks of Green Bay and Brown County were often at the center of Wednesday's hearing, which marked the first time Wolfe appeared before the Assembly's Committee on Campaigns and Elections after the November presidential election.

At a previous hearing, 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 on a Democratic congressional campaign in 2012, 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 on March 10.

Throughout the hearings, both on the 10th and on Wednesday, lawmakers made no effort to say any of the alleged misconduct altered the outcome of the 2020 election.

Wolfe told lawmakers Wednesday she was made aware of the concerns and tried to follow up with election officials to learn more, adding her understanding was Spitzer-Rubenstein was relegated to an observer role after the initial complaints from the local clerks.

"We did ask for more evidence, if anybody had anything of concern they wanted to bring to our attention," Wolfe said. "We solicited that, we did not receive any additional information."

The conservative outlet also obtained emails that indicated WEC officials were made aware of city clerks seeking consultation from the National Vote at Home Institute.

In one of the emails, Wolfe told Milwaukee City Clerk Claire Woodall-Vogg she should share information about the institute with other "medium-large jurisdictions."

The National Vote at Home Institute did not respond to 27 News's request for comment Wednesday.

Wolfe told lawmakers on the committee there was nothing improper about muncipal clerks seeking outside advice, particularly for technical matters like the ones to which Woodall-Vogg alluded in her email last fall.

Facebook funding broader than lawmakers let on

Republican members of the committee also discussed grants Wisconsin municipalities received from the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

The group, which received $400 million in funding from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, announced last summer is was providing $6.3 million in grants to five Wisconsin cities: Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine.

Republican lawmakers have questioned the propriety of whether local clerks should be able to accept outside funding.

A GOP bill has been introduced that would require future outside grant dollars to be divided among all statewide clerks offices based on population.

However, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday, provided funding to a total of more than 200 Wisconsin municipalities.

Those recipients included smaller communities in southern Wisconsin, including Black Earth, Brodhead, Lancaster, Milton, Sun Prairie, and Platteville.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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