If I were a novelist wanting to write a story about a ludicrous sham election audit, I'd be tempted to come up with a story similar to Wisconsin's ongoing farce — though I'd fear readers would consider it too ridiculous.
The problem began before the Republicans' "investigation" even got underway. To oversee the wildly unnecessary probe, GOP officials tapped former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman — a "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theorist who tried to undermine public confidence in the elections by peddling nonsense.
We learned this week that Gableman was also a Donald Trump appointee from the former president's post-election lame-duck period. Who better to investigate Trump's election conspiracy theories — in a fair and impartial fashion, of course — than a partisan who worked for Trump?
Conditions went from bad to worse after the election "review" began in earnest. As we discussed the other day, Gableman acknowledged that he doesn't have "any understanding of how elections work." He also issued strange subpoenas, demanded materials that are already publicly available, sent error-filled requests to the wrong local officials, and invited officials to participate in private meetings at a location he shares with a liposuction clinic.
Making matters quite a bit worse, Gableman appeared on a conservative radio show to compare The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to Nazi propaganda, complete with multiple Joseph Goebbels references. Gableman also showed up at a city council meeting in Green Bay, where he suggested an election investigation is warranted based on some unidentified stuff he saw online.
Gableman also hired Andrew Kloster, another Republican lawyer from the Trump administration who's touted the Big Lie.
Or put another way, Wisconsin's election audit — which the public is supposed to believe is credible and evenhanded — is being led by two conspiracy theorists who worked for the former president.
As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the fiasco has not gone unnoticed.
"I do think it's harmful," Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said of the review. "It's obviously amateurish and uncoordinated and irresponsible and open-ended and partisan. The people who are leading the effort have already decided they think the election was fraudulent, or they're distrustful of the outcome. It's a violation of all the standards you'd use in a usual election audit or review the state might do."
The editorial board of The Capital Times in Madison this week described Gableman as "a bumbling political careerist who gave up his seat on the state's highest court bench because his tenure had been so disgraceful that he would never have been re-elected."
The editors added, in reference to the absurd and unnecessary election investigation, "Gableman is being paid with taxpayer funds to spout his lies and vitriol. This cannot go on."
A Journal Sentinel editorial added yesterday that Gableman "is flushing taxpayer dollars down the drain to support a lie." The editors added, "Republicans should be embarrassed that public money is being used to lend legitimacy to a lie whose premise is at odds with both common sense and the Constitution."
I agree that GOP officials should be embarrassed, but there's little to suggest that they are. Rachel spoke last night to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, who's urged state officials to shut down the sham process, but who said the Republican legislators responsible for the charade intend to let it continue.
In theory, if Wisconsin voters are repulsed by the circus, the GOP majority in the state legislature would risk a political backlash by allowing the taxpayer-financed exercise to continue. But in practice, Wisconsin Republicans won't care — because they've rigged the state's district lines to such a degree that the GOP keeps power, even when Democrats win more votes.
As regular readers know, Wisconsin's Republican legislators in the state can make unpopular and irresponsible decisions with impunity, comfortable in the knowledge that, despite operating in an ostensible democracy, voters aren't entirely in charge.