MADISON — Wisconsin Democrats said they have "heard enough" and will no longer participate in an Assembly committee hearing led by Republicans that is looking into alleged claims of voter fraud.
In a scalding joint statement issued about halfway through the Committee on Campaigns and Elections' hearing Friday afternoon, five Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly write that they will not participate in "this sham hearing" any longer.
"After a morning of wild conspiracy theories that went unchallenged and uncorrected, it is clear that today's joint hearing is exactly the kind of disgraced display that we all feared it would be," the lawmakers wrote.
The Democratic legislators argue that the hearing will do nothing but "undermine our elections and election officials."
"Witnesses attacked our clerks and poll workers while Republicans gave them no serious opportunity to respond. We will not participate in this sham hearing any longer," according to the legislators.
The letter is signed by state representatives JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee), Lisa Subeck (D-Madison), Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and state senators Mark Miller (D-Monona) and Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire).
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos first announced a potential investigation into claims of voter fraud shortly after unofficial election results showed President-elect Joe Biden the victor in battleground Wisconsin. The speaker set a date for the hearing last week.
Vos said at the time that the Committee on Campaigns and Elections has received "thousands of complaints" regarding the election, and that members of the committee have spent the last month reviewing each claim.
“With numerous concerns brought forward, we will proceed with the election investigation,” Vos said in a Dec. 3 statement. “We must ensure that every legal vote was counted and begin working to eliminate questionable practices that undermine the integrity of the vote.”
During Friday's hearing, committee chair Rep. Ron Tusler announced his report into claims of alleged voter fraud, as well as invited various speakers to testify before the committee. The hearing was designated as public and was broadcast live on WisEye, but members of the public were not allowed to testify uninvited.
In a tweet during Friday's hearing, Assembly Majority Leader Rep. Jim Steineke wrote that he is "proud" of Chair Tusler's work, "sifting through 1000s of emails & calls ahead of today's hearing."
State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R–New Berlin) said in a statement that the hearing only solidified his concern for state election laws.
“Based on what we heard at today’s hearing, I remain deeply concerned about whether state election laws were properly followed in last month’s general election. That is why I renew my call for an in-depth audit to carefully examine whether the procedures implemented and actions taken in conducting that election were in full and uniform compliance with all of our existing laws and regulations," according to Sanfelippo.
Bipartisan Blue Ribbon Task Force
Also on Friday, State Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) urged Vos and Senate Majority Devin LeMahieu to create a bipartisan "Blue Ribbon Task Force" to examine what changes could be made to improve the state's voting system.
Carpenter argues that amid the current partisan gridlock in the legislature, "we need to take a different approach to find areas where both parties can agree and where compromises can be reached in changes to our election laws." The state senator also asks Gov. Tony Evers to be included in the task force.
Possible changes include finding ways to lessen the burden on election workers and clerks, given the significant rise in absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election. That could be done by immediately tabulating early, in-person votes and absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, Carpenter writes.
"Wisconsin is one of the few states that doesn’t allow absentee ballots to be processed before Election Day. Allowing this simple change would stop the false accusation that tens of thousands of ballots are secretly being dumped after midnight changing the outcome of the election," according to Carpenter.