Former Brown County Clerk testifies at hearing over Green Bay elections report
MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Former Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno addressed the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections Wednesday over a report alleging Green Bay’s mayor used “democratic operatives” to influence the 2020 elections.
Juno detailed her experience working with Green Bay during April’s primary and November’s presidential election. Juno, a Republican, described Green Bay as “a mess” and accused the mayor’s administration of voter suppression and manipulation of elections. She said it made her “sick to her stomach.”
The mayor’s administration says they violated no laws during the elections. “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,” reads a statement from the city.
No democrats on the committee took part in the hearing. Democrat Mark Spreitzer told Action 2 News he declined to take part because people were not wearing masks and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and the Wisconsin Elections Committee were not invited to testify. He said called the hearing “one-sided.”
Several Republicans--including State Sen. Roger Roth of Appleton and State Sen. Eric Wimberger of Green Bay--are calling on Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich to resign over the handling of the elections.
The hearing comes one day after the release of a report raising issue with the city’s elections, including a $1.6 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life--a voting organization aimed at promoting “safe and reliable voting.” The group received $400 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The report was released by the conservative Wisconsin Spotlight, which is linked to Empower Wisconsin. Empower Wisconsin bills itself as “Wisconsin premiere conservative information hub.”
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.
As Action 2 News reported, the April primary election in Green Bay was limited to two polling locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, the city has 35 polling locations during an election. Juno detailed her frustration in being unable to contact Green Bay city officials because City Hall was shut down. She said emails and phone calls to the administration went unanswered.
Juno testified that the mayor declined assistance from the Wisconsin National Guard to help at the polling places.
She said once she got into City Hall, she discovered 18,000 absentee ballot requests had been unfulfilled. “Pretty clear people weren’t going to get them on time,” Juno said.
“I had very bad feelings going into the Tuesday election,” Juno said.
Our reports detailed the long lines and long hours at the two city polling places. She feels people who wanted to vote did not get to vote in the primary. She squared the blame on Mayor Genrich.
“It was terrible. Electors waiting four-to-five hours to vote. I had people call me that they couldn’t stand in line for that long,” Juno says.
Juno said she had “high hopes” that things would improve going into the November presidential election.
Juno testified about the appointment of National Vote at Home Institute’s Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, who Wisconsin Spotlight described as a “de facto elections administrator” in Green Bay. Spitzer-Rubenstein stepped in when City Clerk Kris Teske took a leave of absence. Emails show Teske was frustrated with how the election was being run.
“I don’t understand how people who don’t have knowledge of the process can tell us how to manage the election,” Teske wrote in an email to the city’s Finance Director, Diana Ellenbecker.
Teske also documented that her staff was being bullied by the mayor’s office.
According to an email, Spitzer-Rubenstein asked if the city needed help curing ballots. That means fixing absentee ballots that may have errors.
Juno believes the city unlawfully gave Spitzer-Rubentein authority over the election. She also takes issue with Spitzer-Rubenstein being given keys to the November Central Count location at the KI Center in Green Bay.
The city denies that consultants such as Spitzer-Rubenstein ever had custody of ballots and there was a “clear chain of command.”
“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,” reads a statement from the city.
State Sen. Wimberger wants prosecutors to open an investigation. “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.”
Action 2 News spoke with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and asked him about calls for an investigation.
“First, if any, anybody has evidence of any alleged improprieties in the election system, they should send that that evidence to to law enforcement or to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, so that that evidence can be assessed and reviewed so appropriate response can be coordinated. And if, if it’s appropriate for the Department of Justice to be involved in that investigation, which would depend on what the evidence was and what the circumstances of the case were, that’s something that we are, we are always open to, in any circumstance,” Kaul says. “So the first step would be to figure out what evidence is out there. I do think it’s really important to note, and I hope that in covering this that reporters will focus on the context here, which is that there have been months of baseless allegations, challenging the integrity of our elections, primarily, those have been promoted by by former President Trump. But, you know, for those who are concerned about restoring confidence in our elections, being clear that those allegations were false is critical. So with respect to these allegations, you know if there are if there is evidence that submitted to law enforcement and we are involved in reviewing that, we would look at it with an open mind and if there is any impropriety that’s something we would follow up on fully, but that would be the next step.”
Action 2 News has reached out to the mayor for comment on the allegations and the report. On Tuesday night, the city released the following statement:
“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.”
Copyright 2021 WBAY. All rights reserved.