Name the names. Produce the forged ballots. Tell me exactly who pulled it off and exactly how they did it.
No generalities. No more “simply raising questions.” Show me a tabulating machine anywhere in Wisconsin that took a vote meant for Donald Trump and switched it to Joe Biden.
You can’t do it. Because it didn’t happen.
And yet here we are — some of us, anyway — still debating who really won the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin.
Was it Joe Biden, who received 20,682 more votes statewide than Donald Trump? Biden’s victory was upheld by Trump-backed recounts in the state’s two largest counties, as well as by at least two audits and multiple rulings by courts, including the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court and a Trump-appointed federal judge.
Or was the winner actually Trump, whose supporters contend the election was stolen in Wisconsin because — well, the arguments get kind of murky here. The most lucid one suggests that the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, created by the Republican-led Legislature in 2015 to administer elections, overstepped its authority by doing exactly that: administering the election.
In the end, no reasonably well-informed person doubted that Biden had won. In Wisconsin, reports of actual fraud were, as always, barely a blip, with about a dozen cases reported around the state, out of nearly 3.3 million total votes. One example: In my own community, a woman was caught trying to vote on behalf of her longtime partner, who had died the summer before the 2020 election. The phony vote was tossed out; the voter was prosecuted.
Trump, however, refuses to be branded a loser — whether that’s a good quality or a horrible one apparently depends on your politics — and even after his claims about the election led to the unfathomable Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, he insisted that swing states like Wisconsin take another look at the election. And another. And so on.
Michael Gableman’s shenanigans
Which brings us to Michael Gableman. A former state Supreme Court justice and unabashed MAGA Republican, Gableman was appointed last year to conduct yet another investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 election. His task involved “looking into the shenanigans” that supposedly occurred in 2020, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who named Gableman to the $11,000-a-month job.
That there were no shenanigans didn’t matter. Wisconsin taxpayers would foot the bill, set initially at $676,000 but ultimately escalating to more than $1 million.
Worth noting: Vos hired Gableman one day after Trump publicly blamed Vos and other Wisconsin Republicans for “working hard to cover up election corruption in Wisconsin.”
Gableman dived right in, ferreting out corruption.
Or not. After he was hired in June of 2020, he started earning his $11,000 a month by buying furniture for his rented office in Brookfield and figuring out how to hide what he and his team were doing. (One California attorney he hired with our tax dollars refused to divulge her name publicly, going only by “Carol M.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outed her as Carol Matheis a short time later.)
Frighteningly, more than three months into his appointment, Gableman told a reporter this: “Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work.”
Hmm. This is a person who served almost 10 years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. This is the person Robin Vos chose to investigate the integrity of the 2020 election. This is the person selected to get to the bottom of it all.
Among Gableman’s shenanigans over the past year:
• He asked a judge to put the mayors of Madison and Green Bay in jail if they refused to be interviewed.
• In no particular order, he filed lawsuits, got sued, got held in contempt of court, treated a Dane County judge with arrogance and disdain, and took the Fifth.
• He demanded that city clerks produce reams and reams of documents that would have been almost impossible to gather and even more impossible to inspect.
• He subpoenaed the makers of voting machines that (a) held no election data and (b) had been shown repeatedly to be reliable.
• He met with officials conducting an equally pathetic election review in Arizona.
• He attended a conference in South Dakota hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, whose endless conspiracy theories included that China somehow hacked the election. (It didn’t.)
Finally, on Aug. 12, Vos fired Gableman — three days after Vos came within a couple hundred votes of losing his Assembly seat to a primary opponent backed by both Gableman and Trump.
So despite bending over backwards to please Trump by hiring Gableman to look for imaginary shenanigans, Vos was rewarded by nearly losing his own job.
On primary election night, Vos, clearly up to here with it all, called Gableman “an embarrassment to the state.”
Sad and scary consequences
Unfortunately, the bogus investigation cost us way more than the $1 million that Vos and Gableman squandered.
No, Gableman didn’t uncover any crimes or even any serious flaws in the way the 2020 election proceeded. Nor did he succeed in his absurd attempt to have the state revoke the 10 electoral votes it had properly awarded to Biden.
But the episode succeeded in another way: For those disappointed in the outcome of the 2020 election, Gableman’s investigation provided one more reason to hope, to believe, that maybe something was shady about the whole thing.
This is how disinformation works — and this was disinformation at its sloppy finest.
And it is working.
As I waited in line to vote in the primary this summer, a poll worker overheard several of us chatting about how COVID was still messing with the world. We were talking about vaccines, masks, boosters, Omicron.
The 2020 election came up.
“Have you seen ‘2000 Mules’?” the poll worker interjected.
My heart sank. Here we were, nearly two years out from the last presidential election, and a local poll worker was still under the spell of a thoroughly debunked movie that purported to show Democrats stuffing ballot boxes for Joe Biden in 2020.
It, too, is disinformation at its sloppy finest, produced by a conspiracy theorist who was pardoned by Trump in 2018 after pleading guilty to an election-related felony several years earlier.
The film — which of course mentions Gableman’s investigation — was literally laughed at by Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr.
Yet there we were, suddenly talking about “2000 Mules.” Discussing the was-it-rigged election of 2020. Debating the Big Lie.
The biggest takeaway: We were playing into the hands of those who want to make voting more difficult and to give state legislatures the unchecked power to manipulate and, if desired, simply overturn the results of future elections.
Somewhere, Michael Gableman and his fellow MAGA Republicans were smiling.
No need to worry about how Gableman will be making ends meet now. Right after Vos fired him, he gave a presentation at yet another Lindell-sponsored event about election conspiracies, where Gableman disclosed his current employer as The Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm that had assisted with his investigation. He also spoke at a dinner featuring Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.
Vos, meantime, withdrew the subpoenas Gableman had issued to the mayors of Madison and Green Bay and to members of the Wisconsin Election Commission, removing the threat that they could be jailed.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a mega-MAGA Republican if ever there was one, immediately blasted the move, saying Vos “just gave up.”
Johnson isn’t saying the 2020 election was rigged or stolen, mind you.
He’s simply raising questions.
Chuck Melvin, former Journal Sentinel business editor, has also worked for The Associated Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow him on Twitter: @crmelvin
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: After two years, incessant election denying is working in Wisconsin