Wisconsin Spotlight | Feb. 17, 2022
WHAT? Green Bay election officials got caught counting absentee ballots in Tuesday’s election hours before the publicly noticed time of 4:30 p.m. (It was supposed to be 7:30 a.m.), effectively shutting out elections observers. City officials claim human error.
So What? It’s the latest election scandal for a city under investigation for the way it handled the 2020 presidential election.
What’s Next? Green Bay Alderman Chris Wery is calling for a full review. State Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) has called on Green Bay’s mayor and city clerk to resign.
MADISON — Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and his team have a story problem. They can’t seem to get their stories straight.
And at least one state lawmaker has again called for Genrich and City Clerk Celestine Jeffreys to step down following the latest election scandal.
City elections officials — already in the spotlight for their handling of the 2020 spring and presidential elections — got caught red-handed counting absentee ballots for Tuesday’s primary election hours before they were supposed to under public notice.
The liberal mayor and his assistant who suddenly went missing Tuesday night when questions arose, finally claimed the problem was a “clerical error.” Genrich chief of staff Amaad Rivera-Wagner said the clerk incorrectly typed the notice, posting that the state absentee ballot counting would be open to the public for observation beginning at 4 p.m., instead of 7 a.m.
After failing to heed warnings from concerned citizens, elections officials finally stopped the operation at around 2:45 p.m., when the Republican Party of Brown County handed them a cease-and-desist order.
No problem, Rivera-Wagner told the Green Bay Press Gazette, The city was made aware of the error before the polls opened and reached out to the Wisconsin Elections Commission seeking advice. The commission gave the go-ahead, Rivera told the newspaper.
Uh, not so fast, WEC said Wednesday afternoon.
“There have been some recent inaccuracies being reported with regard to the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s role in the city of Green Bay’s decisions regarding the processing of absentee ballots,” said WEC spokesman Riley Vetterkind in an email to Wisconsin Spotlight.
“The Wisconsin Elections Commission had no role in authorizing the city of Green Bay’s decision regarding what time to process absentee ballots. The WEC told city of Green Bay officials on Election Day they should work with their attorneys on whether their meeting notice was sufficient.”
The WEC has its own problems, under multiple legislative investigations and audited for its handling of the 2020 elections. It faces lawsuits and charges, accused of violating election laws the agency was created to enforce.
Rivera’s story doesn’t square with Matt Roeser’s account of events. Roeser, a Green Bay resident who became active in election integrity issues after Genrich’s 2020 spring election debacle, said Jeffreys and other elections officials were repeatedly warned they were operating outside of the law.
Roeser stopped by City Hall at around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The election observer wanted to check on how things were going, believing he had arrived hours before the absentee ballots would be counted. He was surprised to find the counting had begun.
“They were running them (ballots) through the machines, even as the notice said they were not going to be counting until 4 p.m.,” Roeser said. “They were getting calls from people saying, ‘What the hell’s going on down there?’”
Elections officials shut down the count temporarily. Roeser said Jeffreys, the city clerk, told him that she had contacted WEC and that everything was okay. They re-started the count. “She said, ‘We’re good to go,’“ Roeser recalled.
Not long after, the local Republican Party attorney showed up and attempted to hand Jeffreys an envelope. The clerk, according to Roeser, told the attorney she didn’t have time to deal with it. The attorney insisted. It was the cease-and-desist letter.
Elections officials shut down the count until 4 p.m., and started up again.
Local media officials attempted to get answers from Genrich and others, but the city officials could not be reached. They weren’t returning messages.
Genrich, who has refused to answer lawmaker questions about Green Bay’s election administration, played the victim card.
“Apropos of something: maybe give decency a try—everyone deserves a little grace. That’s especially true of our elections staff in GB and around the state who have been laboring to uphold democracy in the face of a pandemic and a near constant barrage of demagogic attacks,” the mayor tweeted.
Apropos of something: maybe give decency a try—everyone deserves a little grace. That’s especially true of our elections staff in GB and around the state who have been laboring to uphold democracy in the face of a pandemic and a near constant barrage of demagogic attacks.
— Eric Genrich (@MayorGenrich) February 16, 2022
State Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said enough is enough.
“Already under scrutiny for the city’s handling of the 2020 elections by limiting polling places, turning the keys to the election over to a third party working with Mark Zuckerberg and now violating state law by counting ballots away from the view of the public, this has to be the last straw,” he said in a statement. “Mayor Genrich and his City Clerk Celestine Jeffries [sic] should immediately resign for this unacceptable breach of public trust, yet again.”
Roeser said he can’t believe Green Bay election officials would cast another shadow over the integrity of another election.
“Green Bay is under the biggest microscope in the state of Wisconsin because they’ve already screwed up two elections,” the election observer said.
Roeser, who was battling cancer at the time of the spring 2020 election, was one of many Green Bay voters who faced long lines after Genrich ordered the thinning of the city’s 31 polling sites to just two. Roeser was ultimately not able to vote.
Green Bay’s election administration troubles continued in the hotly contested 2020 presidential election in which Democrat Joe Biden claimed victory over Republican President Donald Trump in Wisconsin by a scant 20,000-plus votes A Wisconsin Spotlight investigation found Green Bay’s election was allowed to be infiltrated by liberal activists, including Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a long-time Democratic Party operative. His “nonprofit” organization was part of a network that handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in election administration grants to cities, much of the money going to Democratic strongholds. The grants were funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Spitzer-Rubenstein, according to emails, was involved in correcting election ballots and was given the keys to the storage facility where ballots were stored.
Rivera, Genrich’s chief of staff who served as community liaison at the time, worked closely with Spitzer-Rubenstein. Emails show that Green Bay’s former city clerk, who resigned amid growing concerns about the outside groups’ involvement in election administration, was concerned that Rivera was making election-related decisions that were solely the domain of the city clerk.
Roeser says the attempted whitewashing of the election problems by WEC, Green Bay city officials and the mainstream media, crumbles under scrutiny.
“I think more people are opening their eyes that our old clerk, Kris Teske, got forced into her resignation,” he said. “This administration is notorious and has a track record of not wanting anybody to question anything they do.”