The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wisconsin Republican quits election board over party’s 2020 falsehoods

As a state lawmaker, Dean Knudson helped design the bipartisan commission. Now he says there’s no place for him on it.

Voters mark their ballots on Election Day in Kenosha, Wis. on Nov. 3, 2020. (Wong Maye-E/AP)
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A former Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin resigned from his seat on the state’s bipartisan election commission Wednesday, announcing that his acceptance of the truth that Donald Trump did not win the 2020 presidential election has made him an ineffective representative of his party on the board.

As a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Dean Knudson led the legislative push to create the six-member panel, which issues guidance to local county clerks and helps administer the state’s local and federal elections. But he told his colleagues at a public meeting Wednesday that his refusal to spread falsehoods about the election had caused him to be branded a RINO — a “Republican in Name Only” — after a lifetime of conservative activism.

“Two of my core values are to practice service above self and to display personal integrity,” he said. “To me, that integrity demands acknowledging the truth, even when the truth is painful. In this case, the painful truth is that President Trump lost the election in 2020. He lost the election in Wisconsin in 2020. And the loss was not due to election fraud.”

Knudson said he has been distressed that elected officials and candidates at the highest levels of the GOP have “peddled misinformation and perpetuated falsehoods about the 2020 elections.”

“Now, it’s become clear to me that I cannot be effective in my role of representing Republicans on the commission,” he said.

President Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes — a victory that was confirmed by a recount in the state’s two largest counties and upheld by state and federal courts. But Trump has continued to falsely insist that the election was stolen. The Republican-led state legislature appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the election, and leading GOP candidates in the state have said they do not believe Biden’s win was legitimate.

‘A real conflagration’: Wisconsin emerges as front line in war over the 2020 vote

Knudson’s surprise resignation — his term was not scheduled to expire until 2024 — came a day after Georgia Republicans rejected Trump’s obsessive focus on the 2020 election, nominating for statewide office three incumbents who had faced Trump’s ire for refusing to take steps to overturn Biden’s victory there.

In Wisconsin, a key swing state with important gubernatorial and senate elections in November, Knudson counseled a shift away from 2020 for his party. “My message to Republicans today is simple: If you’re a candidate, focus on the issues that affect Wisconsin families and their pocketbooks. It’s time to pivot away from conspiracy theories to kitchen table issues,” he said.

Knudson told the group he would serve until his successor is named by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R). Vos has embraced some of Trump’s false claims about the election and backed the legislative investigation led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman. But he has also drawn ire from Trump’s supporters for repeatedly saying there is no way to decertify Biden’s victory in Wisconsin. He was booed at the state Republican convention this weekend during a speech in which he said there was no way to “nullify” the 2020 results.

Vos is now expected to face pressure from the former president and his supporters to install an election denier on the commission.

Wisconsin is one of the few states that delegates the administration of state elections to a bipartisan group. Many Republicans have been calling to disband the system and instead give power either to an elected secretary of state or the legislature.

Knudson’s resignation came as the commission was preparing to elect a new chairman after two years under the leadership of Democratic attorney Ann Jacobs. State law requires that the post rotate between the parties. Another Republican member of the commission, Robert F. Spindell Jr. — a Trump supporter who signed documents purporting to be an elector in 2020 despite Biden’s win in the state — has said he will seek the job. Some Democrats had been hoping Knudson might agree to serve instead.

Knudson told the group that top Republicans had made clear to him there was a “deep desire” that he not become chairman. Instead, the group agreed to delay the chairmanship decision until Vos appoints Knudson’s successor.