Former Republican National Committee chair and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus appeared Tuesday on the podcast of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, repeating a number of obvious lies about the election results in his home state of Wisconsin, illustrating just how much the traditional Republican establishment has now become aligned with the far-right push for sham “forensic audits” of the 2020 election.
Many of the claims that Priebus advanced were not even new — just worn-out lies from November and December 2020, when the Trump campaign had tried and failed to throw out Joe Biden’s 20,000-vote victory in the state. But the effect of saying them over and over again could now serve to muddy the waters and justify Bannon’s push for “audits” in all 50 states, as part of a fantasy that the 2020 election would be decertified.
Bannon and Priebus’ interview kicked off with a major lie: Bannon claimed that Wisconsin has “limited to no early voting, I think no mail-in ballots.” Priebus agreed, claiming, “Wisconsin doesn’t have early voting, period. … We only have absentee ballot voting and Election Day voting,” and that the state Election Commission had “created its own set of rules that allowed for people to vote early by absentee ballot.”
In fact, it has been state law since 2002 that people could vote absentee for any reason — along with a system in which they could do so by showing up in person at their local clerk’s office, then both filling out an application and returning a ballot envelope all during one stop. While there are some technical differences between this method and true early voting, the system is nevertheless commonly referred to in Wisconsin as “absentee, early in-person voting.” (In a rather bizarre moment from the Trump campaign’s various attempts to litigate its way into rejecting the 2020 election results, the campaign sought in Wisconsin to have all in-person absentee ballots thrown out — only for it to be revealed that the Trump campaign lawyer making this argument had himself voted in-person absentee.)
Priebus made a number of other false claims, many of which dated back to late last year and were already addressed and litigated at the time. For example, he claimed there were a number of absentee ballots with “no absentee ballot request forms — that's the first thing I ask, ‘Where are the absentee ballot request forms?’ ‘Oh we don't have any.’ There were no — in many cases, there were no envelopes signed by the elector, nothing produced.”
In fact, these were in-person absentee ballots used by some counties that combined the request form and the ballot envelope into a single paper, actually called an “absentee ballot application/certification.” The system was created in 2010 in order to keep the paperwork together, and includes a line for voters to “further certify that I requested this ballot.”
Priebus then offered up another justification a prospective audit — one that can be easily disproved: “In August, just a few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Election Commission — and you can, people won’t believe this, you can just Google it — they wiped out 200,000 addresses from the database in Wisconsin, from the voter rolls, of addresses that they now determined were not valid addresses, that were valid addresses in November.”
It is indeed true that the state recently cleared over 200,000 names from the state’s database. However, those names were taken off the lists precisely because they were inactive — meaning they had not voted in the state in four years or had been determined to have moved out of state — and thus no ballots would have been cast under those names in 2020, anyway, or else they would not have been removed now.
But later in the broadcast, Priebus listed this as a possible avenue for an audit to prove other election conspiracy theories, suggesting that investigators should be “comparing the voter rolls, [Department of Transportation] rolls, voter rolls, all the other public documents of the actual registration rolls, to make sure that those 200,000 votes that were wiped out a few weeks ago weren't the only problems, and then you need to look at those ballots and forensically observe them to see if, in fact, they were the ballots and they aren’t machine-created or something like that.”
Priebus also promoted an ongoing investigation into the Wisconsin election being led by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, with Bannon calling Gableman “a good man.” Gableman traveled this month to the “cyber symposium” held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, which spread conspiracy theories about computer hacking of the voting machines in the election. (Just a quick reminder: The swing states all used paper ballots.) Bannon had also promoted the event, hosting his show from the location.
Speaking on August 12, Gableman told reporters he was at Lindell’s symposium “out of an honest effort to find out if anyone has any information that will be helpful in carrying out my duties as special counsel.” He also said of his recent visit to the ongoing audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, “I learned a lot there that will be helpful to my investigation” in Wisconsin.
The Arizona audit’s lead consultant has previously shared hashtags and memes casting doubt on the election result from his now-deleted Twitter account, and since then has made numerous bogus allegations that have been rebutted by the majority-Republican county board. The audit formally began in late April, and was supposed to last 60 days, but its organizers have kept asking both for more time and for such additional tactics as canvassing voters door-to-door. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has warned that such a move could violate laws against voter intimidation.