MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Elections Commission postponed choosing its new chairman Tuesday after a Republican commissioner who could have challenged for the post abruptly resigned, saying the state GOP doesn't want him to lead the commission because he believes Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden fair and square.
Dean Knudson told the commission in a farewell speech that Republican leaders have branded him a “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only, a derogatory term Republicans attach to members of the party they don't feel are conservative enough.
Knudson said he believes that the GOP has “falsely peddled” conspiracy theories that Biden somehow Wisconsin from Trump, even though multiple recounts and court rulings have found no widespread fraud and that Biden beat Trump by about 21,000 votes in the state.
“The painful truth is President Tump lost the election in 2020... and it was not due to election fraud,” Knudson said. “It’s been made clear to me from the highest levels of the Republican Party of Wisconsin there was a deep desire that I not be chair and that’s fine.”
Anna Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, didn't immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. The chairmanship rotates between the parties every two years. This year is the Republican turn at the helm.
Under state law, only Knudson and Republican commissioner Bob Spindell are eligible for the post. Spindell has been publicly campaigning for the post.
Spindell was one of 10 Republicans who cast Electoral College votes for Trump in Wisconsin, even though Trump lost. He and the other fake GOP electors were sued last week.
The next chair will hold the position heading into the November election and in the lead up to the 2024 presidential election in battleground Wisconsin. The chair by state law approves the vote canvass following elections and certifies results. The chair also sets the agenda for the commission and can exert influence over how questions are framed, an important power on the board that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
Knudson suggested the commission hold off on a vote until Assembly Speaker Robin Vos appoints his successor. Despite Spindell's urgings to take the vote, the commission voted 5-1 to postpone the contest until its June 10 meeting. Spindell was the only commissioner who voted against the move.
Despite the findings that the 2020 election was free of widespread fraud, the commission has come under intense criticism from Republicans for a host of decisions it made leading up to the contest, including not sending special voting deputies into nursing homes to assist residents with casting absentee ballots as the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and expanding the use of ballot drop boxes.
The four Republican candidates running for governor all want to dissolve the commission. The last holdout, Tim Michels, initially said he wanted to keep the commission but overhaul its operations but reversed his position on Wednesday and called for abolishing the agency. The three Republican candidates running for secretary of state want to shift election oversight from the commission to that office.
Spindell has said he supports keeping the commission in place, but during a speech Tuesday night he said he would be in favor of shifting election oversight to a Republican secretary of state.
He said no one understands what the commission does and many Wisconsin residents still don't know if the commission's decisions leading up to the 2020 election were legal.
Todd Richmond And Scott Bauer, The Associated Press