Conspiracies with a cash bar: 'Election integrity' event rehashes long-debunked allegations
“It’s not political,” Kenosha County Supervisor Brian Thomas said of his election integrity event. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)
Kenosha County Supervisor Brian Thomas said the “election integrity” event he organized was “strictly educational,” and that the people in attendance would be able to learn what was up with the 2020 presidential election. “Good, bad or indifferent,” he declared.
In a Kenosha banquet hall, tucked next to the “world famous” Brat Stop — where out-of-state visitors can pick up their customary haul of cheese curds and Spotted Cow before crossing the border — near half a dozen fast food chains, a handful of car dealerships and a few roadside hotels, about 40 people came to hear what new details have been uncovered about the election.

Thomas, who was elected to the county board last month in a close election decided by 12 votes, had to briefly leave the Monday evening event to attend a public works committee meeting so he could cast a vote on a measure that would end a ban on bringing firearms into Kenosha County buildings.

“I don’t care who won [the 2020 election], I want elections fair going forward,” he said, before recommending the conspiracy-filled documentary produced by conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza “2000 Mules.” “You’re here because I’d hope you have an open mind and hear the other side of the story.”

The 2020 election was won by Joe Biden. Numerous audits, reviews, lawsuits and recounts have affirmed Wisconsin’s results.

Thomas said he thought there might be 100 people at the event, but after a bunch of people spammed the online sign-up he wasn’t sure if the estimate would be accurate. About 40 people actually attended, leaving some tables completely empty and others with just one or two people.

Between sips of a cocktail or tall pour of wine at the Parkway Chateau, what the attendees heard were theories that have been repeatedly debunked by election officials and news media. Just days after a symbolic resolution to decertify the state’s 2020 election results failed at the state Republican convention, a handful of the main characters in the ongoing saga to cast doubt on those results pledged to “keep the heat on.”

In attendance were state Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and a staff member for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Albert Gonzales, the Kenosha police officer who shot and killed Michael Bell in 2004 and is now running as a Republican for sheriff, was there. A campaign worker for U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) was outside collecting nominating signatures. Posters left on the tables featured the logo of Republican dark money group Turning Point USA.

“This is not political at all,” Thomas said, adding that he hoped the couple dozen Democratic protesters outside would come in and learn something. They didn’t, staying outside near the driveway holding signs promoting voting rights before marching to the building’s entrance.

“It’s just a bunch of crap,” said one, Milwaukee resident Sathena Gillespie. “It’s a bunch of crap. There’s been no facts.”

The event kicked off with a presentation from Ron Heuer, president of the Wisconsin Voter Alliance. Heuer filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 and was later hired by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to aid the ongoing partisan review of the election.

Heuer played a number of video clips that have featured heavily in Gableman’s review.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

In an appearance in front of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections earlier this spring, Gableman played clips featuring Erick Kardaal, an attorney for the conservative Thomas More Society, interviewing the elderly residents of nursing homes who cast votes in 2020 and their family members who don’t believe they should have voted. Neither the “evidence” that the elderly people were incompetent, nor their relatives’ opinions, matter in Wisconsin law, since a judge must decide that someone is incompetent before taking away their right to vote.

Wisconsin has a process laid out in state law for helping the residents of nursing homes and other residential care facilities cast a ballot. Two people, one Republican and one Democrat, are appointed as special voting deputies (SVDs) and along with an observer from each party, they go into the facilities to assist people with filling out and returning absentee ballots. The SVDs are required to make two attempts to visit a facility before a local municipal clerk can just mail them absentee ballots.

During the height of the pandemic, visitors weren’t allowed inside nursing homes to protect the especially vulnerable elderly residents, so the WEC voted to skip them. Republicans have repeatedly alleged that this decision violated the law.

On Monday, and in Gableman’s testimony in March, the videos were provided as evidence that elderly people were taken advantage of and forced to vote. Gableman claimed that many Wisconsin nursing homes had 100% turnout in 2020. Disability rights advocates pointed out that the interviews proved nothing about a person’s ability to vote and Gableman’s statistics have been debunked several times.

After Heuer presented his videos, Kardall appeared by Zoom. Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel and the Thomas More Society share office space. Kaardal has also assisted Gableman’s review.

Heuer and Kardaal used the term “Zuckerbucks” nearly 20 times in an hour, rehashing Republican complaints that grants provided by the Center for Tech and Civic Life — an organization partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — to help municipalities across the country administer an election during a pandemic constitute bribery.

Municipalities across Wisconsin received grant money, but Republicans have complained that most of it went to the state’s five largest, majority Democratic cities, and believe it was used to increase turnout among Democrats. Judges have repeatedly disagreed with the accusation that the grants, which largely funded the purchase of absentee ballot drop boxes, voting machines, COVID protections and staff training, constituted bribery.

Last week, a Dane County judge told Kardaal his bribery accusations were “ridiculous,” yet Kardaal continued to make the same case on Monday.

Next Racine County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michael Luell appeared in uniform to describe his investigation into the election. Last October, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and Luell called a press conference to allege that five members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) had committed felony election fraud and misconduct in public office by deciding to forgo the SVD process.

On Monday, despite saying that he’s been continuing to work on the investigation, Luell showed the same PowerPoint presentation he gave at the October press conference.

In March of 2020, the WEC voted unanimously not to send the SVDs because the state was under a stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Subsequent votes to forgo the process in later elections were 5-1. These votes were made in open meetings but Luell said on Monday that the decisions were made “in the dark,” even though he played several video clips from those very meetings on the public access network Wisconsin Eye.

Thomas says he wanted the event to help citizens connect the dots about the 2020 election. But the dots were already connected as the speakers shared allegations that have been repeatedly rehashed to support the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Luell briefly forgot the name of one of Wisconsin Republicans’ favorite election targets, but the audience was quick to jump in and help out.

“Meagan Wolfe,” a few chimed in. “And what’s her title?” Luell asked.

“Administrator.”

Even though the event didn’t fill the room and the election conspiracy movement was declared dead at last weekend’s Republican convention, after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declared that the 2020 election results cannot be changed, to boos from the crowd, and then survived a ballot seeking his ouster, the speakers in Kenosha vowed to keep working.

“This is fantastic content,” Kardaal said about the allegations of fraud. “We’re not really going anywhere. I’m a long term player.”

And if people’s faith in the movement is beginning to falter as further investigations fail to reveal new facts and the next round of elections gets closer, Kardaal has a message for the base.

“Don’t listen to their arguments,” he said.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.