Milwaukee prosecutor won’t charge Wisconsin election commissioners

A voter drops off their absentee ballot at the Good Hope branch of the Milwaukee Public Library on the first day of in-person voting in Wisconsin, U.S. October 20, 2020. Photo taken through glass. REUTERS/Bing Guan

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March 7 (Reuters) – The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office said on Monday it would not indict members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, rejecting a sheriff’s call to prosecute them for the way they had advised clerks ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

By declining to press charges, the Milwaukee Chief Prosecutor’s Office was the first of four district attorneys in the county to receive criminal credentials from Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling to state his position on the matter.

In a letter to Schmaling, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Westphal said there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a crime was committed” by commission members election as the 2020 vote draws near.

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Schmaling, a Republican, had called for five of the six state-appointed election commissioners to be criminally charged for telling election officials to block special voting deputies — who, by law, are required to help residents nursing homes to vote – to enter these facilities due to the COVID -19 pandemic.

Schmaling’s decision was a flashpoint in the ongoing battle in the state between Democrats and Republicans, many of whom refuse to accept that President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the battleground state. by nearly 21,000 votes, despite multiple recounts and a state audit confirming the result.

Last week, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who led a Republican review of the 2020 election called on Wisconsin lawmakers to dissolve the bipartisan Elections Commission, while also suggesting they consider decertifying the results — a a decision that many jurists have declared unworkable.

Former judge Michael Gableman focused much of the report he released on alleged problems with voting in nursing homes that had been highlighted in Schmaling’s investigation, which had been sparked by a complaint. Gableman said mail-in ballots cast by the facility’s disabled elderly residents created doubts about the 2020 election.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called Schmaling’s investigation a “publicity stunt” and declined to press charges.

Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson, a Republican, also reviewed the evidence and said that while she believed a crime had been committed, she lacked jurisdiction. This prompted Schmaling to refer the matter to the counties where the commissioners live.

The Democrat-run Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office had only reviewed potential charges against Commissioners Ann Jacobs and Mark Thomsen because they live in the county. Green Lake, Sheboygan and St. Croix county prosecutors, who are considering referrals against Commissioners Marge Bostelmann, Julie M. Glancey and Dean Knudson, have not yet said whether they intend to press charges.

In his letter, Milwaukee County’s Westphal said the commissioners’ guidelines were “not inconsistent” with their duties to administer the election and said they were aimed at addressing a “global pandemic and a vulnerable community that may not have been able to exercise his constitutional right to vote.”

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Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chris Reese

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