Election Reviews In Pennsylvania And Wisconsin: What To Know Leaders of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin reviews had visited the widely discredited Arizona election review and now are helming similar GOP-led investigations in their home states.

Republican-Led Election Reviews Take Shape In Pennsylvania And Wisconsin

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1039451858/1039987481" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It has been almost a year since the 2020 election, and still Republicans are investigating the outcome, even though there is no evidence of any widespread issues or fraud. In Arizona, the end appears in sight for a widely discredited election review. The GOP-led Senate plans to release findings from that effort Friday. Similar reviews are only just starting elsewhere. Joining us now, Laurel White of Wisconsin Public Radio and Sam Dunklau of WITF in Harrisburg, Pa. Good morning to you both.

LAUREL WHITE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SAM DUNKLAU, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: So, Laurel, let's start with you. Tell us what's happening in Wisconsin.

WHITE: So we actually have three ongoing Republican-backed election reviews in Wisconsin right now that are looking at the 2020 election. One of them is from our state audit bureau, and it was ordered by the legislature earlier this year. And it's viewed by Democrats and folks aligned with them as the most legitimate of the three. Then there's an inquiry led by a Republican state lawmaker, and that one is hitting some roadblocks. Some subpoenas have been issued in that inquiry. They've been denied by county election officials up until this point, so kind of TBD on how that one's going to move forward. The most high-profile review, though, is the third one, and that's one called by the state Assembly speaker, paid for by the state. And it's really in response to a continued outcry from Republicans in Wisconsin that said the state wasn't doing enough to look into the election.

MARTIN: So three reviews - Sam, what you got going in Pennsylvania?

DUNKLAU: Well, not three reviews, Rachel. But here in Pennsylvania, we do have one review that is drawing a lot of scrutiny and now also some legal challenges. Here, the investigation is being led by state Senate Republicans. Just last week, a Senate committee issued a wide-ranging subpoena for personal information about voters that Democratic state leaders are pushing back against pretty strongly.

MARTIN: OK. So tell us more about this subpoena, Sam.

DUNKLAU: Yeah. So the state Senate has subpoenaed for 17 different types of election records. We're talking about not just voters' names, but also their addresses, partial Social Security numbers, even driver's license numbers. And Republicans say that this is to verify who these voters are. I should note, though, that multiple court rulings and previous state-mandated audits here in Pennsylvania and election officials of both parties have all concluded that the state's 2020 election results were accurate. And a lot of this information that the Senate Republicans are asking for is already public, but Democrats have outlined some privacy and chain of custody concerns with such a wide-ranging subpoena, in part because the GOP has not said who will be looking at these records and what will be done with them during the investigation or even afterwards.

Senate Democrats now have a lawsuit in state court to get this request overturned. And in general, Democrats have said that this is a bad-faith effort to undermine the integrity of elections here. State Senator Anthony Williams, who's from the Philadelphia area, took that characterization one step further during last week's subpoena meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY WILLIAMS: This is an attack on our country's greatest freedom. It's an attack on our right to vote.

MARTIN: So what kind of defense are Republicans giving?

DUNKLAU: From the beginning, Republican state Senate leaders have said that they want this investigation to be something that every Pennsylvanian can have some degree of confidence in. And here's Republican state Senator Cris Dush, who is spearheading the investigation here.

CRIS DUSH: The people are demanding action and demanding action quickly. But that being said, I have to make sure that it's thoughtful and deliberative.

DUNKLAU: Again, we don't know who exactly will have access to the subpoenaed records if they're handed over. Senator Dush has also said that it's just him and a group of GOP lawyers here coming up with a list of vendors that they might use to pore over these records. So it's tough to make the argument that this is something that all Pennsylvanians can take to heart when Republicans are really the only ones that are holding the reins.

MARTIN: Laurel, let's go back to you, talking about Wisconsin. What should we know about this particular review, the one that has been initiated by the Assembly speaker?

WHITE: Well, the state Assembly has hired a Republican and former state Supreme Court justice as an independent contractor to lead the review. The state has given him about $700,000 for the inquiry. That's taxpayer money. And remember, this is in addition to another taxpayer-funded investigation led by the state audit bureau.

The investigation has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. An email went out to local clerks about maintaining records earlier this month, but it went out from a Gmail account that was under a different person's name, which raised some security concerns. So some have raised immediate questions about the competence here. The state Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, announced he was nominating the former Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, to lead this investigation in June at a state Republican convention. Here's what Gableman had to say at that event.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL GABLEMAN: I know a lot of people in this room were very disappointed by how the November 2020 election was run, and you didn't just grumble about it and go back home and let bygones be bygones. You recognized that this one is where we draw the line.

WHITE: At the event, both Gableman and Vos were speaking about the 2020 election from the perspective of something went wrong. And, like Sam said in Pennsylvania, here in Wisconsin, there hasn't been any evidence of widespread problems.

MARTIN: Can we pull back for just a minute here? Can you two put this in context of broader Republican efforts to investigate last year's voting?

WHITE: So in Wisconsin, it's very tied in with efforts all across the country. Our Assembly speaker who called this investigation, he has gotten a lot of pushback from Wisconsin Republicans. He's actually gotten a lot of pressure from former President Donald Trump. He met with the former president on his private plane about this. The lead investigator went to Arizona, checked out the inquiry there. He also went to a conference - a recent conference put on by election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell of My Pillow. And kind of this interplay between Wisconsin and the national conversation was brought up recently by Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE CHRISTENSON: I really would encourage them to educate themselves on how elections work in their own state, rather than flying to Arizona or getting their "intelligence," quote, from a guy that makes pillows.

DUNKLAU: So I definitely echo Laurel. A lot of similar efforts that are coming from the national level are happening here in Pennsylvania. Senator Dush, who's leading the investigation effort here, and other Republicans visited that Arizona review that you mentioned at the top, Rachel. And they've been hearing a lot from Trump and his allies to reinvestigate the 2020 election. In fact, lawyer Sidney Powell funded a group that took part in a reinvestigation of the election in one particular Pennsylvania county in the last couple of months. So in all, this segment of the GOP base has been clamoring for another election review to get their way and has been pushing for these reviews to somehow take shape.

MARTIN: Sam Dunklau of WITF in Harrisburg, Pa., and Laurel White of Wisconsin Public Radio. Thanks to you both.

DUNKLAU: Thank you.

WHITE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL LAURANCE'S "THE GOOD THINGS")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.