MADISON, Wis. - A group of Wisconsin Republicans who took it upon themselves to certify to the U.S. Senate that Donald Trump won the battleground state in the 2020 presidential election didn't break any laws, state elections officials said Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted unanimously during a closed meeting on March 9 to dismiss a complaint alleging the GOP electors acted illegally in an effort to ensure Joe Biden lost Wisconsin, according to a letter the commission sent Tuesday to the electors and complainants.
The commission attached a legal analysis from the state Department of Justice that concluded the Republicans weren't trying to fool the Senate but instead were legitimately trying to preserve Trump's legal standing as courts were still deciding if he or Biden had won.
Andrew Hitt, former state GOP chairman and one of the Republican electors, said in an email to The Associated Press that he was grateful for the decision.
"I had no illusions the actions we took as Republican electors ... were going to change the rightful result of the election either in Wisconsin or nationally," Hitt said. "We simply gathered on the advice of legal counsel to ensure all options were preserved in case of a court decision favorable to the Trump legal team in ongoing litigation."
A U.S. House committee has subpoenaed more than a dozen people who it says falsely tried to declare Trump the winner of the election in seven swing states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
According to the Wisconsin Justice Department analysis, Hitt and nine other Republicans, including elections Commissioner Bob Spindell, gathered in the state Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, the last day for Wisconsin to send its electoral votes to the Senate. The 10 Republicans cast their votes for Trump and sent them to the Senate as Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes. The state's Democratic electors were meeting in the building at the same time. They cast the state's 10 electoral votes for Biden and shipped them to the Senate.
A post-election recount showed Biden defeated Trump by almost 21,000 votes in Wisconsin but several legal challenges to those results were still in play as of Dec. 14, the Justice Department report noted. The challenges were finally resolved in Biden’s favor in February and March of 2021.
Law Forward, a nonprofit law firm, filed complaints with the elections commission and Milwaukee prosecutors in March 2021 alleging the Republicans illegally posed as Wisconsin's electors in an attempt to convince the U.S. Congress to hand the state to Trump.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul
The analysis from the state Justice Department, run by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, concluded that since the outcome of the presidential election was still in doubt on Dec. 14 the GOP electors were within their rights when they cast votes for Trump to ensure the Senate received them by the deadline.
"This memorandum concludes that the Complaint does not raise a reasonable suspicion that Respondents violated Wisconsin election law ... they cast their votes, even though the canvass did not reflect a Trump victor, in order to preserve the opportunity for votes to be counted if a court challenge found that Trump received the majority of votes," the analysis said.
Milwaukee prosecutors declined to investigate in January, saying they lacked jurisdiction and that the case was better suited for the state Justice Department or federal prosecutors.