The number of votes cast illegally in Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election almost certainly exceeded Joe Biden’s nearly 21,000-vote margin of victory, a newly released investigation concludes, but the report found no evidence of widespread fraud or an unexpected or illegal late-night ballot dump that thrust Biden to victory.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative public-interest law firm in Milwaukee, released results of a 10-month investigation that included a review of 20,000 ballots, an examination of 29,000 absentee ballots, the filing of 460 open-records requests, and scrutiny of more than 65,000 documents. The report (pdf) identified many problem areas with the election but stressed it found no fraud or reason to believe that improper ballots were cast with malice or ill intent.
“When large numbers of voters question the authenticity of an election, their concerns, whether valid or not, need to be addressed,” the report said. It noted that an August 2021 Marquette University Law poll found 70 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Independents had a lack of confidence that “the votes for president were accurately cast and counted in last year’s election.”
Among the report’s major conclusions:
- It is “almost certain” that the number of votes “that did not comply with existing legal requirements exceeded Joe Biden’s margin of victory.” This conclusion does not mean Biden did not win the election among eligible voters, “but the questions of fraud and unlawful processes are related.”
- “There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. In all likelihood, more eligible voters cast ballots for Joe Biden than Donald Trump.” An analysis of voting patterns and the 2020 results “does not give rise to an inference of fraud.”
- The “widespread abandonment” of proper election procedures “raises questions regarding the fairness of the process and the possibility for voter fraud that might not otherwise be detected.”
- Security vulnerabilities that could be exploited should be addressed by “reasonable reforms” that could reduce potential problems “without unduly burdening the right to vote.”
- Private funding of election operations, primarily from a nonprofit group funded by Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, “had a partisan bias and impact.”
The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) disputed some of the findings and conclusions in the WILL report. “Certification of the November 2020 presidential election was based upon lawfully cast votes that were affirmed by municipal, county, and state canvass certifications and multiple court decisions after reviewing these matters,” said Riley Vetterkind, WEC public information officer.
The WILL investigation found nearly 300 instances of ineligible voters casting or attempting to cast ballots, 130 votes cast by felons, 42 ballots cast in the names of deceased voters, and 129 ballots from individuals with commercial addresses, either post offices or mailing centers. Vetterkind said a recent Legislative Audit Bureau report (pdf) on the 2020 election found only eight individuals with active felony sentences who might have voted in the election.
Misuse of ‘Indefinitely Confined’ Status
Many of the nearly 266,000 people who cast absentee ballots claiming they were “indefinitely confined” were not eligible for indefinitely confined status, the report said. Noting the nearly 300-percent increase in the number of absentee ballots from the indefinitely confined, the report said “it is almost certain that many voters improperly claimed ‘indefinitely confined’ status.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that fear of illness during the COVID-19 pandemic was not sufficient justification to claim confined status and obtain an absentee ballot. These ballots did not require photo identification, while in-person voting does require photo ID.
“While we cannot infer any malignant intent on the part of these voters, this means that many votes were cast without the requirement of photo identification,” the report said. Some 54,259 absentee ballots from the indefinitely confined “were cast by individuals who have never shown a voter ID in any election,” the investigation found, while 3,718 were cast from addresses that were on the 2019 Mover’s List, and nearly 7,750 provided information that did not match that on file with the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles.
Vetterkind said the WEC’s guidance on absentee ballots said: “indefinitely confined status shall not be used by electors simply to avoid the photo ID requirement without regard to whether they are indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness, infirmity or disability.”
Nearly 23,400 voters who cast ballots failed the DMV check, meaning the information they provided did not match state vehicle and licensing records, the report said. Of this total, nearly 5,000 voters listed a driver’s license number “that does not exist in the DMV system,” while nearly 16,600 listed names or birth dates that did not match DMV records. “Democrat-leaning counties were disproportionately represented among DMV checks,” the report said. Nearly 32,000 Wisconsin voters were in the National Change of Address Database at the U.S. Postal Service, with 7,151 having moved out of state, the investigation found.
“It is still not possible to infer fraud from these unlawfully cast votes or failure to maintain voter rolls,” the report said. “There isn’t much, if any, evidence that these voters did anything intentionally wrong (in many instances they seem to have relied on the advice of election officials) and one might conclude—whether as a matter of law, fairness, or political survival—that it would be unreasonable to throw out their ballots.”
Ballot Drop Boxes Benefited Biden
The widespread use of ballot drop boxes in the 2020 election runs afoul of Wisconsin law on proper procedures for collecting absentee ballots, the report said. Use of drop boxes, encouraged during 2020 by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, “was correlated with an increase of about 20,000 votes for Joe Biden, while having no significant impact on the vote for Trump,” the report said. Vetterkind said the use of secure drop boxes in Wisconsin predates the August 2020 memo on the subject from WEC. According to the commission’s information page on the subject, “no Wisconsin court has foreclosed the idea of lawfully using absentee ballot drop boxes in the state.”
Rejection rates for absentee ballots in 2020 were “substantially lower” than in the previous presidential election, the WILL report said. Ballots can be rejected for missing or inaccurate information. “Either voters improved their capacity to avoid mistakes,” the report said, “or more likely, election officials deliberately made efforts to ensure ballots were not rejected.” If rejection rates in 2020 were similar to 2016, the margin between Biden and Trump would have narrowed by 6,000 votes, “making a very close election even closer.” A WILL poll of 2,000 Wisconsin absentee voters showed a partisan split, with 72.6 percent of those expressing party preference identifying as Democrats and 27.4 percent identifying as Republicans.
Wisconsin law does not allow local election officials to fix or “cure” ballots that have defects, mistakes, or missing information. The Wisconsin Elections Commission told local officials they could cure ballots, which was “lawless advice” that resulted in non-standard practices being followed for correcting ballots, the report said. Vetterkind said the state requirement that absentee-ballot witnesses provide their address was new in 2016 and “statute does not define what constitutes a complete address for this purpose.”
Despite the belief in some quarters that a sudden, middle-of-the-night ballot dump in Milwaukee was evidence of fraud, the report said the number of ballots counted on election night “is consistent with what was reported to be outstanding.” Those votes went overwhelmingly—85.7 percent— for Biden. “Put simply, there was no unexplained ‘ballot dump,’ ” the report said.
The investigation found no evidence of problems with voting machines. Jurisdictions that used Dominion voting machines had no effect on the expected vote total, the report said. Trump won communities that used Dominion machines with 57.2 percent, an increase from 2016. “Our analysis found Democrats actually did worse than expected in areas that used Dominion machines,” the report indicated.
Grants awarded to Wisconsin municipalities by the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), funded by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, resulted in an increase of about 8,000 Democrat votes statewide, the report estimated. Wisconsin’s five largest cities—Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine—received about $8.8 million from the group. About 200 municipalities across the state received CTCL election grants in 2020.
The private funding of public elections has been derided by critics as “Zuck Bucks,” part of an effort to turn the 2020 election for the Democrats. Not everyone agrees or sees a conspiracy behind the funding.
“This is one of the great lies of 2020 in Wisconsin,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, in a recent podcast interview. Heck said the CTCL funding “wasn’t targeted at Democrats. It was for anybody who applied for it. It is true that the five largest cities in Wisconsin, which happen to have Democrat pluralities, applied; but so did 200 other municipalities in Wisconsin. …By the way, every municipality that applied, Republican or Democrat, got the money.” Funds were used for hiring election workers and the purchase of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 mitigation items, he said.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said he welcomed the WILL investigative report. “I appreciate the hard work WILL put in to review the 2020 election after many Wisconsinites expressed concerns about the fairness of our election process,” Vos said in a statement. “The review confirms there were issues the legislature can and should address.”
An investigation of the 2020 election authorized by Vos and Assembly Republicans has come under increasing fire from Democrats, who see it as a strictly partisan attempt to undermine the 2020 results and set the stage for a Republican to win the Wisconsin governorship in 2022 and the presidential election in 2024. The probe is being headed by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who was given a $676,000 state-funded budget for the investigation.
Wisconsin Attorney Gen. Josh Kaul’s office sued Gableman and Vos on Oct. 21 in Dane County Circuit Court, seeking to quash subpoenas Gableman issued to members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. An injunction hearing in that case is set for Dec. 23 before Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford. Gableman filed suit in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Dec. 2, seeking to compel the mayors of Madison and Green Bay to sit for interviews.