Speaker Vos caves on new election audit after another scolding

‘He is pandering to conspiracies and lies at the expense of democracy’

By: - July 30, 2021 5:19 pm
A member of the Senate's election audit team demonstrates how auditors will manually tally each of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential election in Maricopa County in 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

A member of the Senate’s election audit team demonstrates how auditors will manually tally each of the 2.1 million ballots cast in the presidential election in Maricopa County in 2020. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Rep. Janel Brandtjen speaking on the Assembly floor into a microphone
Rep. Janel Brandtjen | Facebook

Last Tuesday, Speaker Robin Vos swatted aside a request for an Arizona-style forensic audit of the Wisconsin election that was being initiated by Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls). Vos responded that he was already conducting such an audit and she should take a look at his scope statement if she had any doubts.

He also told her to cool her heels and wait to see what his investigation brought up: “I think we need to have some patience, to be able to say, look, we have people who are very well qualified doing this work, let’s give them the time to actually accomplish the goal we’ve asked for.”

But on Friday afternoon Vos caved to Brandtjen’s wishes, announcing in a statement that what he characterized on Tuesday as a waste is now his plan. He admitted his investigation was, in fact, dedicating an insufficient amount of state resources to investigating fraud that has been proven not to exist, Vos characterized it as “changing direction.”

Elections committee ranking Democrat, Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), sees the switch as a desperate attempt by Vos to control his base: “I think Speaker Vos is smart enough to know that he can’t really investigate the election because there is nothing to investigate and they are not going to find anything. But he continues to be stuck where he’s got a tiger by the tail and he doesn’t know how to let go and not get bit.”

Vos’ Tuesday take

Brandtjen announced Monday she would oversee the audit she wanted as chair of the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee, a body that does have the authority to do an investigation. Vos balked, telling reporters at a news conference that it was not really necessary because he already had former police detectives led by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman (known best for his racist Willie Horton-like campaign against the only Black justice and his refusal to recuse himself from ruling in favor of some of his biggest campaign donors).

Speaker Robin Vos at news conference 7/27/21
Speaker Robin Vos at news conference 7/27/21

Here’s how Vos explained why Brandtjen was wrong to reporters at his Tuesday news conference: 

Well we’re already doing the forensic audit, so just like perhaps President Trump was misinformed about what we’re actually doing in Wisconsin, I feel like my colleague Rep. Brandtjen is misinformed about what we’re doing in Wisconsin, because we are already doing a forensic audit. …it very clearly mirrors exactly what’s happened in Arizona. So we are already doing a forensic audit.”

Vos continued his pooh-poohing of Brandtjen’s idea saying she could dedicate her office staff to helping his investigation if she wanted to. “But as far as her launching her own investigation, I don’t know what that would prove, since we already have two already ongoing.”

It was not the first time Vos had backed down under pressure on investigating the election. One the eve of the state Republican convention in May, Vos had been chastised by former President Donald Trump for refusing to do a forensic audit that was tough enough, so the next day Vos announced at the convention that he was bringing in Gableman to oversee the detectives he had hired. 

Spreitzer says even appointing Gableman was another bow to the extreme right that still believes Trump won the election, not an attempt to bring in someone of legitimate stature to give the appearance of fairness or objectivity: “It’s clearly red meat for the base — the fact that it was announced at the Republican convention and then Gableman gave a speech and said, ‘I was fighting evil while I was on the Supreme Court.’ And I assume Democrats are the evil he was referring to.”

Assembly Democratic leader Gordon Hintz was also unimpressed with the appointment and new investigation: “After bringing in corrupt Mike Gableman to head up Assembly Republicans’ sham ‘investigation,’ it is unsurprising that Speaker Vos is doubling down on a political witch hunt that is undermining the safety and security of our elections in Wisconsin. He is pandering to conspiracies and lies at the expense of democracy.”

At any price?

Vos’ justification for spending even more money than he had originally intended — giving what now appears to be a blank check to Gableman — is the same rhetoric he’s been using ever since Trump lost.

“Through this investigation, we aim to ensure there is confidence that every vote will be counted, and laws concerning future elections will be faithfully and uniformly followed,” he said in his Friday statement.

The statement, with its markedly changed tune, continued: 

“We hope to complete a thorough investigation in the fall and review the findings at the same time we receive findings from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, who are currently conducting a statewide, multi-faceted forensic audit.”

Washington D.C. Capitol riot 1/6/21 (Photo: Alex Kent via Tennessee Lookout)
Washington D.C. Capitol riot 1/6/21 (Photo: Alex Kent via Tennessee Lookout)

“Many questions have been raised about the November election that expose weaknesses and faults in our current election system. It has become clear that a top-to-bottom investigation will take longer than initially anticipated and will require more manpower to complete,” Vos added. “To restore full integrity and trust in elections, we have decided to change direction, giving more authority and independence to Justice Gableman.”

Vos’ new Friday explanation included making Gableman “Special Counsel” with the “authority to hire more full-time investigators who will work at his direction.”

“After talking with our original investigative team, we realize that the part-time nature of these contracts is less time than is needed to complete the investigation. Justice Gableman will have the resources and ability to determine the need for any future adjustments,” said Vos.

How much taxpayers will be spending to fund this newly expanded investigation is unclear.

The price tag on the first iteration of Vos’ investigation was $72,000 for two investigators with $44,000 of that to be paid out in $11,000 monthly increments between July and October to Gableman, as laid out in a contract signed the day of the convention. His latest statement appeared to be a blank check to Gableman with no ceiling on the cost.

To put that in perspective, recently the Arizona Mirror reported that the cost of the “self-styled” audit in that state cost $5.7 million, paid for by “organizations that have aggressively promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — and in some cases sought to overturn results.”

In Wisconsin, it is the taxpayers picking up the bill of Vos’ audit of an election that has been verified by three canvases, a voting machine audit, two recounts, multiple court cases, prior elections committee investigations and the Wisconsin Elections Board. The Legislative Audit Bureau — a nonpartisan government entity — was also instructed by Republicans to audit the election and that audit is still underway.

“All of this is a giant waste of taxpayer dollars. It is not going to do anything to improve our election processes themselves or voter confidence in those processes,” says Spreitzer. “And you’re actually making things worse by continuing to undermine voter confidence in our election. And the irony of it is that the voters whose confidence is most being undermined are Republican voters. And I think we saw in the Georgia special elections, it’s not clear that those voters want to show up in the future. Yet that’s exactly the message that Republican leaders continue to deliver to their own base.”

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.