Racine County DA declines to issue criminal charges against state election commissioners

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RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Racine County district attorney has declined to issue criminal charges against members of the state elections commission, noting she doesn't have jurisdiction to do so.

Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson wrote a letter to the sheriff that his allegations can't be prosecuted because none of the commissioners live in Racine County. 

In November, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling sent a request to Hanson alleging five out of six members on the bipartisan elections commission violated election laws. His investigation claimed WEC committed felonies for sending absentee ballots to nursing homes instead of special voting deputies to help seniors vote during the pandemic. Schmaling's investigation centered around eight residents at a Mount Pleasant nursing home. 

Hanson also decided not to charge any employees at the nursing home. 

“It would be unfair for me to expect that these health care professionals would better understand the election laws in Wisconsin than the Wisconsin Elections Commission,” Hanson wrote. 

The commission, which consists of three Republicans and three Democrats, voted unanimously in March 2020 to not send special voting deputies into nursing homes. Republican commissioner Bob Spindell later on was the only one who voted against this guidance. It was not until after the November election Republicans took aim at the guidance. 

Ann Jacobs, the Democratic chair of WEC, tells CBS 58 the DA never had jurisdiction and called the investigation a political stunt.

"The fact that they tried was nothing more than a political performance," Jacobs said. "Wisconsin Elections Commission took the steps they did to allow voters to safely exercise the right to vote. I stand by the actions we took because we allowed people to vote safely."

The sheriff alleged sending absentee ballots to a Mount Pleasant nursing home, instead of special voting deputies, resulted in employees at the care facility helping some incompetent residents vote.

Racine officials asked again for a statewide investigation into allegations at nursing homes, but Attorney General Josh has resisted. He's previously stated he's not aware of similar incidents across the state.

A nonpartisan legislative audit of the 2020 election found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but did conclude WEC broke that law when it told local clerks to not send special voting deputies into nursing homes. 

Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to clarify election laws around voting deputies and their role during a pandemic. 

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