Intercepted ballots, forged signatures and questionably high voting rates plagued Wisconsin’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the 2020 presidential election, a state-appointed investigator said.
In light of the findings, the investigator said, the ballots from those facilities should be audited.
The special counsel’s report was issued Tuesday after an examination of 2020 election integrity. It said Wisconsin officials ditched legal requirements for supervising nursing home ballots during the pandemic, encouraging widespread voter fraud.
The 136-page report includes eye-popping data of voter participation at dozens of nursing homes and residential care facilities in five Wisconsin counties. The report’s author is Michael Gableman, the lead investigator for the office of special counsel and a former state Supreme Court justice.
The results, Mr. Gableman said, showed “absurd results related to nursing home voting.”
The report examined 2020 voter participation at 91 nursing homes in Milwaukee, Racine, Dane, Kenosha and Brown counties and found that at least 95% of residents had voted. In Milwaukee, Racine and Dane counties, 100% of nursing home residents cast ballots in the presidential election.
The report did not compare the nursing home voting rate in 2020 with the rate in 2016. The overall voter participation rate in Wisconsin was a record 72% in 2020, compared with 67% in 2016, state election officials said.
Mr. Gableman, citing the staggering figures, said a broader investigation would show similar results in other Wisconsin counties. He called for an audit of all 2020 absentee ballots sent from nursing homes and residential care facilities in the state.
The presidential election in Wisconsin was tight. Joseph R. Biden won the state by fewer than 21,000 votes.
The report detailed instances where nursing home residents deemed incompetent had voted and where signatures appeared forged. In other cases, nursing home residents showed up at their precincts to vote only to be told their ballots had been cast by mail, apparently without their knowledge.
The report suggests that all of the residential care ballots were illegal because the Wisconsin Elections Commission unlawfully loosened the rules governing how ballots were cast in those facilities.
“Given that there are approximately 92,000 residents of [residential care] facilities statewide,” Mr. Gableman wrote, “the fact that tens of thousands of illegal ballots from these facilities were counted casts doubts on the 2020 election result.”
The report blames the irregularities on the Wisconsin Elections Commission. It said the commission unlawfully ended a requirement that “special voting deputies” deliver the ballots and supervise all absentee voting in nursing homes and other residential care facilities.
The election commission instead allowed facility staff to help residents vote and mail in their ballots. The commission also permitted ballots to be deposited into drop boxes, all in violation of Wisconsin law.
The election commission said the pandemic justified the relaxed rules and that voters in residential care facilities would have been disenfranchised had the changes not been made.
The special counsel found that the changes undercut election integrity and the result “was to completely strip away the protections afforded to those persons by Wisconsin law and allow nursing home residents to be subjected to undue influence, overzealous solicitation and outright fraud.”
Mr. Gableman’s report has attracted significant criticism from state Democrats, who say the findings endorse conspiracy theories embraced by former President Donald Trump, who claims the election was rigged to favor Mr. Biden.
The report also accuses a nonprofit group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of committing election bribery by targeting $8.8 million in get-out-the-vote funds to five heavily Democratic jurisdictions.
Mr. Gableman was criticized Tuesday when he told the Wisconsin Legislature that lawmakers should “take a very hard look” at decertifying the 2020 results that showed Mr. Biden to be the winner in Wisconsin.
Critics point out that Mr. Gableman is a Republican appointee tasked with leading the investigation by State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, also a Republican.
Mr. Gableman voted for Mr. Trump and suggested in November 2020 that the Biden campaign had stolen the election. He has since pledged to lead the voter integrity investigation with impartiality.
Wisconsin Democratic Party officials called Mr. Gableman’s report “a conspiracy-theory laden sham” but did not directly address the findings at nursing homes. Instead, Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler attacked Mr. Gableman’s suggestion that the Legislature consider decertifying the 2020 results.
“As ridiculous as this notion sounds, it’s a deadly serious authoritarian threat to our constitution, and it could well menace our democracy in 2024,” Mr. Wikler said. “Gableman and his cronies are laying the groundwork for Republicans to overturn future elections when they don’t like the outcome.”
The special counsel’s investigators interviewed families of some of the most vulnerable nursing home residents and found instances where voter fraud may have been committed. The evidence included videos of residents who appeared to be clearly incapacitated but managed to vote in the 2020 election.
In one Kenosha nursing home, a guardian reported a resident incapable of voting because of severe dementia, yet the resident voted absentee in the 2020 presidential election. Further investigation found that the resident “voted throughout the calendar year 2020.”
• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at email@example.com.
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