Police on the scene were pressured to stay silent.
A flash drive that contained crucial absentee voter information in the 2020 presidential election was briefly lost during the early morning hours of Wednesday Nov. 4 as the world waited for Milwaukee to reveal its ballot counts.
Sources within Milwaukee County law enforcement told Wisconsin Right Now exclusively that the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, Claire Woodall-Vogg, realized she had lost the flash drive when she left, with police escort, the Central Count building where ballots were tallied. She was en route to the county courthouse to report “the results of more than 169,000 absentee ballots collected in the City of Milwaukee,” the Hill previously reported.
Those results would prove to heavily weight toward Vice President Joe Biden in the critical battleground state. Biden would go on to win the state with the slimmest of margins (20,540 votes), although President Donald Trump’s campaign says he will request a recount.
We’ve met a brick wall of silence and stonewalling in our attempt to get more details about what happened around 3 a.m. when the drive suddenly couldn’t be located by Woodall-Vogg, according to our sources.
We reached out to the Milwaukee Police Department Office of Public Relations, and asked Sgt. Efrain Cornejo for comment. Cornejo referred us to the FBI and the Milwaukee County DA’s Office for comment. Neither responded with comment.
We reached out to Claire Woodall-Vogg multiple times on Friday for comment, and we were told she was working, however she did not return any phone call or email to explain what happened. In particular, we wanted her to explain if the chain of custody was breached and, if so, for how long? And how she can assure voters that no one else had access to the flash drive during the time period she didn’t have possession of it. We also wanted more information about what important information was on it. She did not respond.
UPDATE: Three days after this story first ran, Woodall-Vogg wrote a letter to the Wisconsin Election Commission in which she explained her side of what happened. In the letter, she admitted that, when she got to Milwaukee County with the flash drives, she couldn’t find one of them. She says the flash drive was sitting in a tabulator machine, a senior staff member removed the flash drive and turned it over to a Milwaukee police officer who then delivered it to her 10 minutes later. She alleges that the incident did not alter the results of the election and that the District Attorney’s office conducted an investigation to establish chain of custody.
Calls and emails for comment were also made to Mayor Tom Barrett’s office, and the Milwaukee County Election Commission. There have been no responses at all. Our sources did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, although they are in a position to know the information they imparted; such is the urgency behind the scenes over the matter. One officer reported the incident to a supervisor out of concern, we were told.
Claire Woodall-Vogg hand delivers the City of Milwaukee absentee ballot count to the courthouse, escorted by police from the central count facility. @journalsentinel pic.twitter.com/gi7LkXNQTi
— Meg Jones (@MegJonesJS) November 4, 2020
According to sources, Woodall-Vogg became panic stricken when she realized she had lost one of the several flash drives. She stressed the importance of the missing drive and indicated it was urgent to find it, the sources said. Woodall-Vogg made phone calls and an unidentified female later handed her the flash drive stating something to the effect of that it was what she needed. The situation has caused a stir within the Police Department and ignited a wall of stonewalling.
The “incident bears no impact on the validity of the results,” Woodall-Vogg claimed in her letter. On Nov. 7, around 3 a.m., wrote Woodall-Vogg, the City of Milwaukee finished counting absentee ballots, so she began “to export the results from Tabulator 7.” Tabulator 7 was “the last to finish processing ballots and was the only remaining flash drive to be burned.”
As she burned the flash drive, which she wrote can take up to 10 minutes, Milwaukee County Election Commission Director Julietta Henry “asked that I bring a report for each tabulator regarding the number of ballots processed per precinct,” wrote Woodall-Vogg,
She added: “While waiting for the flash drive to burn, I proceeded to reboot each of our other 11 machines and print the requested report. After printing the reports, I delivered the flash drives to the Milwaukee County Election Commission via police export.”
Upon arriving at the Milwaukee County Election Commission, she wrote, “I discovered that I had left the flash drive for Tabulator 7 in the machine. I immediately called Kimberly Zapata, a member of my senior leadership team, who was still present at Central Count and confirmed that it was still in the machine. She removed it and shut down the machine. I believe it is important to document that the flash drive was never left unattended and that staff had remained in the room throughout this process.”
The letter states, “Per our protocol of engaging law enforcement, Ms. Zapata gave the flash drive to a Milwaukee Police Department Officer who delivered the flash drive approximately 10 minutes later. Time stamps on both the flash drive and the tabulator correlate and confirm that the flash drive was not altered from the original time of export.”
She states that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office conducted a review of the incident so as to document the chain of custody and the number of agencies involved in the delivery of the flash drive.
Sources tell Wisconsin Right Now that police on the scene were pressured to stay silent and that police felt threatened by district attorney investigators and election personnel, who were present during the incident and didn’t want them to tell anyone what happened.
We went to an address listed for one of the officers in question to get more details but didn’t get a response. We were told that officers fear retaliation if they speak out about what happened.
We reached out to Milwaukee County DA prosecutor Joshua Mathy of the public integrity unit and DA John Chisholm’s spokesman Kent Lovern for comment. They did not respond.
The officers were assigned to guard the building when they were suddenly pulled into police escort duties, the sources said. We are withholding their names for their own protection.
Milwaukee’s 169,000+ absentee ballots en route to county election officials pic.twitter.com/kXTiAJ8Xsp
— Matt Smith (@mattsmith_news) November 4, 2020
Local media documented Woodall-Vogg’s trip to the courthouse with officers in tow. Bill Miston, a reporter with Fox 6 Milwaukee, confirmed on the morning of Nov. 4 that “Milwaukee’s elections chief Claire Woodall-Vogg is in the process of putting the results from the machines that are finished onto encrypted flash drives that will be delivered – with police escort – to the county election commission to be put into the reporting system.” He didn’t report that she briefly couldn’t find one of them, according to the sources.
According to Politifact, “From 3:26 to 3:44 a.m. in the Associated Press election reporting stream, the vote for former Vice President Joe Biden jumped by 149,520 (9.2% of Biden’s total votes) and Trump’s vote jumped by 31,803 votes (2% of his total votes).” Most of the votes came from Milwaukee County.
Who is Claire Woodall-Vogg?
BREAKING: City of Milwaukee election results on their way to county election commission. pic.twitter.com/KM7U5asNAv
— Bill Miston (@billmiston) November 4, 2020
Claire Woodall-Vogg was confirmed as a Milwaukee Election Commission director in an 8 to 7 vote in July. According to JS Online, her confirmation followed a debate among Common Council members, in which some members stressed the urgency of filling the position while other members were concerned over the inability to ask Woodall-Vogg more questions in a public forum.
Woodall-Vogg is listed on the National Vote at Home Institute website. The Institute is tied to “The Center for Tech and Civil Life” which announced back in July that it granted the City of Milwaukee $2.1 Million. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, A conservative group, Wisconsin Voters Alliance and seven of the group’s members filed a lawsuit seeking to block more than $6.3 million in private federal election grants designated for five Wisconsin cities, including Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Racine and Green Bay claiming the grant constitutes bribery to boost voting in progressive communities.
She’s previously worked at a local Humane Society, for Safe & Sound as a drug-free communities manager, and as City of Cedarburg City Clerk.
Common Council President Cavalier Johnson released a statement supporting her candidacy to be head of the Election Commission.
“Claire has worked diligently to increase equitable access to voting in our city over her nearly eight year tenure with the Election Commission. Most recently, Claire spearheaded the SafeVote program introduced by Alderwoman Dimitrijevic, increasing access to absentee ballot applications for registered voters in our city during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. “She is a dedicated public servant, who is passionate about quelling voter suppression…”
However, her appointment was controversial. Alderwoman Milele Coggs “took issue with a letter the new director sent at the time,” that stated, according to CBS 58, “I look forward to watching one of Alderwoman Lewis’s suggested candidates administer a presidential election. Or maybe, as Alderwoman Dodd and Zamarripa suggested, the mayor should bring back the ‘openly gay Asian female’ who had zero passion for recruitment and training of poll workers.” Coggs called it “unprofessional and disrespectful,” the television station reported.
Claire Woodall-Vogg response to what happened:
On November 4th, around 3:00am, the City of Milwaukee finished counting absentee ballots, and I began to export the results from Tabulator 7. Tabulator 7 was the last to finish processing ballots and was the only remaining flash drive to be burned. As I burned the flash drive, which can take up to 10 minutes, Milwaukee County Election Commission Director Henry asked that I bring a report for each tabulator regarding the number of ballots processed per precinct. While waiting for the flash drive to burn, I proceeded to reboot each of our other eleven machines and print the requested report. After printing the reports, I delivered the flash drives to the Milwaukee County Election Commission via police escort.
Upon arriving at the Milwaukee County Election Commission, I discovered that I had left the flash drive for Tabulator 7 in the machine. I immediately called Kimberly Zapata, a member of my senior leadership team, who was still present at Central Count and confirmed that it was still in the machine. She removed it and shut down the machine. I believe it is important to document that the flash drive was never left unattended and that staff had remained in the room throughout this process. Per our protocol of engaging law enforcement, Ms. Zapata gave the flash drive to a Milwaukee Police Department Officer who delivered the flash drive approximately 10 minutes later. Time stamps on both the flash drive and the tabulator correlate and confirm that the flash drive was not altered from the original time of export.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office conducted a review of the incident so as to document the chain of custody and the number of agencies involved in the delivery of the flash drives.