Wisconsin senators call for Genrich’s resignation, investigation of how November election was handled
The demand comes after Appleton area senator Roger Roth called for Genrich’s resignation
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A Wisconsin state senator is demanding an investigation into how Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and the city handled November’s general election amid calls by a Republican Wisconsin lawmaker for Genrich to resign.
Senator Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) released a statement referencing an article from a conservative website, which obtained e-mails showing an outside consultant, who was paid for by grant funding, and was provided access to ballots and keys to the city’s central count location at the KI Convention Center.
Wimberger’s statement came after Wisconsin state senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton) called on Genrich to resign earlier in the day, who also cited that same article. Roth says the article shows an effort between Genrich, his Chief-of-Staff Celestine Jeffreys, and others to influence the 2020 elections in Green Bay.
The article alleges Genrich ceded authority for running the election to a paid consultant with ties to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The consultant had been pre-approved by the state to help with elections in a pandemic. However the former City Clerk and Brown County Clerk did raise concerns about the consultant’s involvement.
As previously reported, Action 2 News found Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno sent an e-mail to the Wisconsin Elections Commission raising concerns about an observer at the city’s Central County through an open records request.
In the e-mail sent to WEC staff counsel Nathan Judnic on Election Day, Juno said she believed the Central County location is “tainted by the influence of a person working for an outside organization affecting the election.”
She told Judnic she saw the election observer with a laptop, printer and cell phone at Central Count and “interacting with the poll workers and advising them on matters.”
In response to her email, the WEC staff counsel said, “I would certainly like to be made aware of issues or decisions that have been ‘tainted’ at the central count, I’m not 100% sure what you mean.”
Judnic said the WEC was aware Green Bay would have consultants from outside groups. “We’ve discussed the roles these individuals were going to be assigned and told them that while there is nothing that would prohibit the City of from using these individuals, the inspectors and the absentee board of canvassers working the location are the individuals that are to be making decisions, not the consultants.”
Juno is apparently referring to Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, who introduced himself to Juno as an “advisor to the City of Green Bay through the National Vote at Home Institute.” The National Vote at Home Institute website describes the organization as an advocate for mail-in voting that works to expand at-home and in-person voting options, remove legislative barriers to voting at home, and help election officials on implementation and best practices with mail-in ballots.
Juno forwarded an email from Spitzer-Rubenstein where he described his job as “helping the city set up Central Count for Tuesday” and asking to speak with her about an issue someone raised with the voting machines used at Central Count.
“We were told he is an observer for the outside organization that gave them a grant and his position is paid for by that even though he’s from a different org,” Juno told Judnic. “Please explain how grant money from a private outside organization and employee from a private outside organization does not violate election laws for free and fair elections?”
To that point, Judnic replied, “As far as grant money, etc., I’m again interested if there are issues or decision that have been made that you think we should look into.”
As Action 2 News previously reported, the City of Green Bay announced in July it had been awarded $1,093,400 by the Center for Tech and Civic Life for the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan”.
The amount was the third largest amount given to a municipality in the state, only behind Milwaukee and Madison, respectfully. Green Bay city officials say more than $6.3 million in grant funds were awarded to cities across Wisconsin. CLICK HERE for a previous report regarding details on how Green Bay officials planned to spend the money awarded to them.
According to its website, the Center for Tech and Civic Life is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making elections more ‘professional, inclusive, and secure.’
The “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan” was created by the City, as well as the cities of Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Kenosha, to help open enough voting sites, set up drive-thru and drop box locations, provide PPE for poll workers, and also recruit and train enough poll workers in those municipalities for the fall election.
As previously reported, the Wisconsin Voters Alliance and seven of its members filed a federal lawsuit against five cities that received the grant, claiming the funds violated federal election law. A federal judge then rejected the challenge.
Wimberger said he wants the Brown County District Attorney, or the Wisconsin Attorney General, to investigate. You can read his full statement below.
“This report indicates extremely concerning behavior from Mayor Eric Genrich and his staff. The City Clerk was pressured by a partisan actor, the National Vote at Home Institute, who the Mayor’s Chief of Staff actively assisted. A private citizen, not affiliated with the City of Green Bay, and not a Wisconsin resident, effectively became the chief elections officer for Green Bay during a presidential election. They were allowed direct access to absentee ballots, and directed how, where, and when ballots should be collected. This is inexcusable and action must be taken. Situations like this are exactly why I am a co-author with Senators Darling and Stroebel of legislation that would prohibit the private funding of elections, and would instead require the Elections Commission to distribute any elections-related grants statewide on a per-capita basis. I am calling on Brown County District Attorney David Lasee and Attorney General Josh Kaul to investigate whether these allegations were part of any sort of pay-for-play scheme. Every American should have confidence in how their elections are run. This massive abuse of power significantly damages that trust, and we must ensure that situations like this cannot occur in the future.”
Meanwhile, Assembly member Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay), defended the city’s election process, publishing her statement on Facebook. You can also read it in full below:
Action 2 News contacted Mayor Genrich’s office for comment Tuesday.
The mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment, however the following statement was released by the City of Green Bay Tuesday evening, which can also be found on Facebook by CLICKING HERE:
“The article published by the Wisconsin Spotlight makes egregious and false accusations about the integrity of the November election. The City’s conduct of election in 2020 has been heavily scrutinized, including being the subject of numerous records requests, new articles, and lawsuits. IN each case, the City’s actions have been upheld. These allegations are completely without merit.
The City conducted the election in accordance with state and federal laws, with our legal department vetting the decisions being made leading up to the November election, and City staff engaging in frequent consultations with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to help shape our decisions. The article also makes numerous statements that are inaccurate, so let this statement set the record straight.
The elections was administered exclusively by City staff. As part of the $1.6M election grant award, the City received technical assistance from experts in elections, security, public relations and analysis. They provided additional input and insight, but never had access to ballots, computers, storage, equipment or the like. When staff agreed with the recommendations, we implemented those suggestions. When staff did not, the City implemented our preferred course of action.
No ballots were ever in the care or custody of these consultants. Absentee ballots were kept at City Hall exclusively until they were delivered, by City staff and in City vehicles, to the KI Convention Center at 6:00am on Election Day, utilizing a clear, documented chain of custody made up exclusively of City staff. Central Count moved to the KI Convention Center at th request of both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Wisconsin, who jointly voiced concerns with holding Central County at City Hall. In addition, City staff determined that compliance with social distancing recommendations, from our local, regional and national health authorities, would be difficult with an increased interest from observers. As required by statute, the City conferred with the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) before finalizing the decision to move Central Count to KI. Election observers were allowed at KI, and a livestream of Central Count was made available as a supplemental option to increase the ability for the public to observe as well.
The Central County Chief Inspector was in charge at KI at all times, and was overseeing all activities. The Chief Inspector was present from the moment the doors were opened until the count was concluded.
The City of Green Bay was one of over 100 municipalities in Wisconsin to receive an election grant. The “WI-5″ refers to the only five municipalities in Wisconsin, including Green Bay, which were sued by Erick Kaardal of Minnesota for accepting the grant. Erick Kaardal was referred to the Committee on Grievances last month for possible sanctions after a judge determined that the lawsuits be filed to overturn the presidential election results in several states smacks of “political gamesmanship.” The funds were properly used to purchase PPE, supplies, equipment, pay poll workers, and to quickly adapt to ever changing circumstances due to the pandemic.
We are confident that the election was carried out legally and with integrity, and the hard work of our dedicated staff is to be commended. The City legal department has reviewed all of the allegations in the article and agrees that they are without merit.
As previously reported, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told Action 2 News the state’s intelligence center was going to be active for the November election, saying the center “analyzes information and identifies potential threats to the safety and security of Wisconsinites, including any threats to our election and they share the information as appropriate with local, state, and federal law enforcement so there can be an appropriate response.”
Kaul added that “election officials who are working at polling places are empowered to remove individuals from those polling places if they’re engaging in disruptive activity or interfering with the process. If people are observing it and they see something that concerns them, they can go contact an election official or they can contact an outside organization, but what they can’t do is try to take over the process that’s the role of the election officials who are working at the polling places.”
The 2021 Assembly Election Committee has an informational hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m. regarding a general election review. That committee consists of Representatives Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Joe Sanfelippo (R- New Berlin), Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), David Murphy (R-Greenville), Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield), Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) and Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire).
Representatives Brandtjen and Sanfelippo are the Chair and Vice-Chair of the committee, respectfully. Representative Spreitzer also serves as the Minority Caucus Chair, while Subeck serves as the Caucus Vice-Chair.
As Acton 2 News previously reported, the entire ballot count was live streamed on YouTube as part of the transparency city officials wanted to provide. Within the City of Green Bay, 84% of registered voters participated in the November election.
Earlier this year, Green Bay Alder Kathy Lefebvre requested a breakdown of how the money was used during a finance committee meeting. A six page expense sheet included items such as ballot drop boxes, hand sanitizer, face masks, election equipment and compensation for poll workers. However, city staff said at the time expenses were still being added to the document, since there was still some money left over.
As of February 11, the City of Green Bay still had about $730,000 in funds remaining from the grant received through the Wisconsin Safe Voting Grant from the Center of Tech and Civic Life for the spring election. The city has until June 30 to use the money.
The original $1.6 million grant came in two installments - one for $1,093,400 and the second for $522,200.
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