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MADISON — Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson told a media outlet that she was concerned about an “Arizona-style” audit of elections machines in Wisconsin. She was worried about outside groups accessing the county’s voting equipment and “breaking the chain of custody.”

But should Wisconsin voters be concerned about an inside job?

Tollefson apparently had no issue clearing out important elections records shortly after a November presidential election that has raised a lot of red flags and questions.

In a letter obtained by Empower Wisconsin, Tollefson denied an open records request in part because the information sought on Rock County’s election system did not exist.

“The Rock County election system was updated at the end of December 2020 through the beginning of January 2021. Ballot images and vote cast records were pulled from the system prior to the update,” the clerk wrote.

That’s a big problem, says state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), chairwoman of the Assembly’s Campaign and Elections Committee. The committee is investigating the 2020 elections.

State law is clear, Brandtjen said. Election records must be kept for 22 months.

“Before clearing or erasing the units or compartments, a municipal clerk shall transfer the data contained in the units or compartments to a disk or other recording medium which may be erased or destroyed 22 months after the election to which the data relates,” according to state statute.

A memo from Peggy Hurley, staff attorney for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, makes clear that election records must be saved for 22 months.

“… (C)lerks must retain ‘ballots, applications for absentee ballots, registration forms, or other records and papers requisite to voting at any federal election, other than registration cards,” Hurley wrote. “Poll lists for all elections must be retained for 22 months … if the clerk transfers data from tabulating equipment for an electronic voting system onto a disk or other storage device, the disk or storage device must be retained for 22 months.”

Tollefson did not return Wisconsin Spotlight’s request for comment.

The clerk’s denial of the open records also notes another reason for her rejection: proprietary interests.

“Even if the records you are requesting did exist we would not release the information … (because) The records you are requesting contain trade secrets of ES&S (Election Systems & Software),” Tollefson wrote.

Brandtjen finds such a response infuriating.

“‘(They’re saying) All you taxpayers that put money into training and the elections themselves and the millions of dollars in equipment,  no, no no, you’re just going to have to trust us and there’s no ability to have that chance to check any of the machinery,’” the lawmaker said.

Brandtjen’s committee has repeatedly been stonewalled by elections officials who refuse to turn over information. It begs the question, what are they hiding?

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

“What people need to understand, after 22 months it’s destroyed. So we either have to use this window to have this information or it disappears,” Brandtjen said.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading a separate investigation into last year’s election, sent a letter this week to clerks telling them to “preserve any and all records and evidence relating to the November 3, 2020 election in Wisconsin, including but not limited to information retained on any and all voting machines.”

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