DECEMBER 1, 2020
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN — A state judge concluded Wisconsin’s election was conducted properly Friday, dealing President Donald Trump and his allies their fifth legal defeat in a little over a week.
“There is no credible evidence of misconduct or wide-scale fraud,” Reserve Judge Stephen Simanek said.
Simanek issued his decision from the bench 73 hours before the Electoral College is to meet Monday to officially deliver the presidency to Democrat Joe Biden. Wisconsin’s slate of 10 electors for Biden has already been certified, and Simanek’s decision upheld that finding.
Trump quickly appealed and the state Supreme Court agreed to hold arguments in the case at noon Saturday.
Over the last week, the state Supreme Court and a federal court in Wisconsin together have thrown out four other lawsuits brought by Trump and his backers.
And after a daylong hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig said he thought Trump might have taken too long to file yet another lawsuit. Ludwig is expected to rule in that case by Saturday.
The ruling came as Republicans in the state Legislature took testimony from partisans who criticized how the election was conducted. But among those who testified was Dean Knudson, a Republican on the state Elections Commission who, like Simanek, said there was no evidence of extensive voter fraud.
Biden’s win was narrow
Trump lost Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes out of 3.3 million. That’s a margin of 0.6 percentage points.
He paid $3 million for recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state’s most populous and most liberal areas. The recounts slightly widened Biden’s winning margin.
Trump then filed a lawsuit directly with the state Supreme Court, but the justices last week on a 4-3 vote rejected it. The majority concluded Trump should have started in circuit court rather than the state’s high court.
Trump then brought his new challenge and Chief Justice Patience Roggensack assigned Simanek to hear it.
In the recounts and legal challenge, Trump questioned numerous long-standing election practices. But Simanek found after a hearing Friday morning that no violations of election laws occurred.
“The determination of the court is that (Trump’s team) has not demonstrated that an erroneous interpretation of Wisconsin early-voting laws happened here,” said Simanek, a retired Racine County circuit judge.
In response, Trump attorney Jim Troupis asked the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the ruling and the justices quickly agreed to do so. No dissents were noted on the order, which took the rare step of holding arguments on a weekend.
With his appeal, Trump is seeking to throw out more than 200,000 votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties, while letting stand ballots cast in the same fashion in Republican areas.
Before Simanek, Trump’s team argued clerks were wrong to fill in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes. But Simanek said that policy, which was put forward four years ago by Republicans on the state Elections Commission, is proper.
The president also challenged the ability of Madison poll workers to collect absentee ballots in parks and maintained all early in-person voting in the two counties was illegal.
Simanek ruled against Trump on those points, noting paperwork for early in-person voting that Trump has questioned has been used without challenge for more than a decade.
In his suit, Trump contended clerks gave voters too much latitude to decide if they were confined to their homes. Voters who identify themselves as indefinitely confined do not have to provide a photo ID to vote absentee, as others must.
About 215,000 voters have claimed that status, and Republicans contend some of them don’t meet the criteria. Democrats have said the increase in people who consider themselves indefinitely confined is not surprising because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Litigation brought this spring by the state Republican Party over the indefinite confinement law remains pending before the state Supreme Court. But Simanek noted that guidance from the state Elections Commission on how to administer the indefinite confinement law “was essentially approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court” in an initial ruling in that case.
“To infer that people utilized and voted under that section to evade the voter ID requirements is no basis for not counting those votes,” Simanek said.
“It’s far more likely that because of the ongoing pandemic that people were very concerned, especially those with compromised systems, to go out in public, to not want to stand in line for potentially hours at a polling place in order to cast a ballot. I certainly could not strike those ballots based on an inference which is not really … supported in fact.”
Courtesy/Source: USA Today / This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel