Our Founding Fathers likely didn’t envision a strip mall in the suburbs of Milwaukee as the place where American elections are determined, but here we are. Between a liposuction clinic and an office housing a couples therapist, former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman toils away in a co-working space, trying to find irregularities in the 2020 presidential election—an election in which he once accused unelected bureaucrats of trying to “steal our vote.”
Last November, Donald Trump lost Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, and ever since, Trump loyalists have been trying to manufacture evidence the result was somehow illegitimate. The Republican-led State Assembly has authorized nearly $680,000 for Gableman, who recently attended a symposium held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell in which it was alleged that China had stolen the election, to “investigate” the integrity of the vote.
Of course, the effort to discredit the close presidential contest in Wisconsin—the same election in which every member of the Assembly who authorized the investigation was elected, incidentally—is an outgrowth of the comically bungled Arizona “audit,” which actually found Joe Biden had won the state by more votes than originally tallied.
But these charades are necessary in state after state to keep the former president from turning his ire to Republican politicians he determines are insufficiently defending him.
Every one of Gableman’s moves since he took the reins of this “stop the steal” effort has been pure slapstick. He recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he doesn’t have “any understanding how elections work.” At a public hearing in Green Bay, he testified that he had served the city’s mayor with a subpoena, only to find out from the mayor himself that he had not yet received it.
Perhaps even more ironic is that the man tasked with determining the veracity of election technology seems like he would have trouble plugging a computer in. In mid-September, Gableman sent dozens of records requests to county clerks using an unsecure Gmail account that inexplicably identified him with the pseudonym “John Delta.” Many of the emails were never delivered to their intended targets, some misspelled the names of the recipients, and other messages went to spam folders.
Among “John Delta’s” requests were that counties send him data retained on voting machines. But voting machines have no data—all the vote tallies are downloaded to drives and servers and kept elsewhere. Further, when clerks checked the metadata from the PDF file Gableman had sent them requesting their records, they saw the document’s author was identified as Andrew Kloster, a former Trump administration official.
(As the Journal-Sentinel reported, Gableman has also been consulting with Shiva Ayyadurai, a former U.S. Senate candidate and conspiracy theorist who claimed Massachusetts had secretly destroyed a million votes for Trump and whose election theories have been taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
Last week, he subpoenaed five city mayors, demanding they come to his office and talk to him in private. In his testimony at the public hearing, he suggested the mayors who did come to his office would be granted immunity from criminal prosecution, although local election experts are confused as to what exactly he is prosecuting and what authority he would have to criminally charge election officials for discharging their duties as they always have. (Including, for instance, Mike Gableman’s statewide Supreme Court race in 2008.)
Later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Gableman had canceled the meetings, and in response he went on a local radio show to compare the newspaper to a famous Nazi propagandist. “What they’re doing over at the Journal would make Joseph Goebbels blush,” Gableman said. (The show’s host, Dan O’Donnell, objected to the comparison, so they both agreed the Milwaukee paper was more like the communist Pravda.)
Naturally, Republicans around the state know that no election chicanery took place in 2020 and that Joe Biden won the state outright. Even U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who spent months elevating Trump’s claims that he lost, admitted on camera that “nothing was skewed” in the 2020 Wisconsin election.
“If all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates, he [Trump] would have won,” Johnson told progressive journalist Lauren Windsor. “He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got, and that’s why he lost.”
Gableman has said his effort isn’t to overturn the results of the 2020 election, but instead to “determine what was supposed to happen in our elections and what did happen.” But for some credulous voters, his findings will no doubt cast doubt on future elections, such as the 2022 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races on the docket.
And there are legitimate issues the legislature could tackle moving forward. Republicans have argued local clerks shouldn’t be allowed to “cure” mail-in ballots by filling in missing address information. They have decried a Facebook-related grant used by city clerks to operate an election during a pandemic (although there is no evidence a single vote was affected.)
But state Republicans have to put on this play to allay the hurt feelings of an angry man in Florida who could torpedo their careers if they don’t caress his ego. When Donald Trump lashed out at one Wisconsin state senator for being insufficiently sycophantic, the senator responded with an obeisant press release promising to wear Trump socks and wear a Trump/Pence mask when he boards planes.
“The power of your pen to mine is like Thor’s hammer to a Bobby pin,” the senator groveled.
Indeed, like Thor’s hammer, Trump’s influence is doing significant damage to confidence in America’s electoral system. And like a city’s skyline leveled after a superhero battle, it is taxpayer money that’s going up in flames.