Republicans have seized in particular on a March 2020 commission vote lifting a rule that required special voting deputies — trained and dispatched by municipal clerks’ offices — to visit nursing homes twice before issuing absentee ballots to residents. The special voting deputies, like most other visitors, were barred from entering nursing homes early in the pandemic, and the commission reasoned that there was not enough time before the April primary election to require them to be turned away before mailing absentee ballots.
The vote was relatively uncontroversial at the time: No lawsuits from Republicans or anyone else challenged the guidance. The procedure remained in place for the general election in November.
But after Joseph R. Biden Jr. won Wisconsin by 20,682 votes out of 3.3 million cast, Republicans began making evidence-free claims of fraudulent votes cast from nursing homes across the state. Sheriff Christopher Schmaling of Racine County said the five state election commissioners who had voted to allow clerks to mail absentee ballots to nursing homes without the visit by special voting deputies — as is prescribed by state law — should face felony charges for election fraud and misconduct in office.
Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the State Assembly, who represents Racine County, quickly concurred, saying that the five commissioners — including his own appointee to the panel — should “probably” face felony charges.
The commissioners have insisted they broke no laws.
Ann Jacobs, a Democrat who is the commission’s chairwoman, said she had no regrets about making voting easier during the pandemic and added that “even my Republican colleagues” were afraid about the future of fair elections in the state.
“We did everything we could during the pandemic to help people vote,” she said.
Mr. Johnson — a two-term senator who said he would announce a decision on whether to seek re-election “in the next few weeks” — is lobbying Republican state legislators, with whom he met last week at the State Capitol, to take over federal elections.
“The State Legislature has to reassert its constitutional role, assert its constitutional responsibility, to set the times, place and manner of the election, not continue to outsource it through the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” Mr. Johnson said. “The Constitution never mentions a governor.”