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What’s The Status Of GOP-Backed Election Investigations In Wisconsin?

3 Ongoing Reviews Continue, Despite No Evidence Of Widespread Fraud Or Wrongdoing

Elections, election security
A woman walks between voting booths at the Landtn Thiel 470 VFW post as citizens take to the polls to cast their votes for the Wisconsin’s primary Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008, in the Village of Saukville Wis. Darren Hauck/AP Photo

In Wisconsin, Republicans are backing three separate investigations into the November 2020 election, despite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the state.

The inquiries include a wide-ranging investigation backed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, an attempted “forensic audit” by Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, and a review by the state audit bureau, ordered by the GOP-controlled state Legislature.

Vos Investigation Follows Trump Criticism

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The investigation spurred by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is the most high-profile of the three inquiries. That effort, which is taxpayer funded, has a roughly $700,000 budget and is being led by former conservative state Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman. Gableman visited Arizona’s controversial election review over the summer, as well as a recent conference put on by election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

At the state Republican convention this summer, Vos assured GOP voters the investigation would dive into “shenanigans” that may have occurred during the election.

“We give you our word that we are doing everything we possibly can to uncover what occurred in 2020,” Vos said at the time.

The speaker has received harsh criticism from some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, over the past several months. Trump and his supporters have argued Vos hasn’t done enough to push election investigations in the state. After a private meeting with the former president earlier this summer, Vos issued strong statements about the inquiry and increased its budget.

At the same state GOP convention this summer, Gableman acknowledged “a lot of people in this room were very disappointed by how the November 2020 election was run.”

“And you didn’t just grumble about it and go back home and let bygones be bygones, you recognized that this one is where we draw the line,” Gableman said.

The review, which is scheduled to be complete by mid-October, has gotten off to a rocky start. Gableman sent an email to local election officials across Wisconsin earlier this month, requesting that they retain 2020 election records, but the message was sent via a Gmail account associated with another person’s name and was flagged as a security concern or junk mail by a number of clerks.

Since then, Gableman has raised the possibility of issuing subpoenas to some election officials.

‘Forensic Audit’ From State Lawmaker Faces Roadblocks

Another election inquiry led by a state GOP lawmaker has hit recent roadblocks. That effort is being led by Rep. Janel Brandtjen, who chairs the state Assembly elections committee. Brandtjen, who also visited the Arizona election review this summer, calls her inquiry a “forensic audit” and cites Arizona as a model. However, she hasn’t been able to obtain information from election officials after Vos refused to sign subpoenas she recently sent to clerks in two major counties.

Just before rejecting Brandtjen’s subpoena, Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson criticized the document as “clearly a cut and paste job” from similar election-related legal moves from Republicans in other states across the country. The subpoena requested items that don’t exist or aren’t part of required election processes in the state of Wisconsin.

“It’s clear to me that the Republicans are not interested in improving our election processes but rather desperate to find some type of smoking gun that doesn’t exist,” Christenson said. “I would encourage them to educate themselves on how elections work in their own state, rather than flying to Arizona or getting their intelligence from a guy who makes pillows.”

Nonpartisan Audit Bureau Review Expected This Fall

The final ongoing election review in Wisconsin is being conducted by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. The Republican-controlled Legislature ordered the bureau to conduct the audit earlier this year.

While Wisconsin Democrats have pushed back on all of the investigations, arguing they perpetuate misinformation about the election, they have said they have faith in the integrity of the audit bureau’s work. The audit bureau is expected to complete and release the results of its inquiry this fall.

All of the efforts come after Wisconsin has completed a series of routine state election audits and a presidential recount in the state’s two largest counties. None of those reviews have uncovered widespread fraud or wrongdoing. There have also been numerous Republican-backed lawsuits in the state, all of which have failed to result in findings of wrongdoing by election officials or voters.

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, local clerks referred just 13 allegations of suspected fraud in the November 2020 election to district attorneys. Nearly 3.3 million votes were cast in the state.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a margin similar to several other razor-thin statewide elections in recent years.