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Wisconsin governor blasts expansion of GOP-directed election audits

Republicans in control of the Wisconsin Legislature plan to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to review allegations of problems with the 2020 election despite scant evidence of fraud or partisan chicanery.

MADISON, Wis. (CN) — A Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislative committee on Monday appointed a former conservative state Supreme Court justice as special counsel for one of multiple investigations into the 2020 election led by GOP lawmakers and their allies.

In a 5-3 party line vote, Wisconsin’s Committee on Assembly Organization officially appointed former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as special counsel to one of four investigations by both the state and private citizens looking for illegal practices and suspicious irregularities in the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump and his supporters have spent almost a year swearing up and down was rife with fraud.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R- Rochester, said on Aug. 27 that Gableman’s contract will allow for spending up to $680,000 on the probe, more than nine times the amount originally earmarked. The investigation, Vos has said, will have a “cyber-forensic” focus — a term of art that seems to stem from Arizona’s sprawling election audit, though what that means exactly in terms of investigating ballots, voting machines and the like remains hazy.

The committee vote on Monday arrives one week after Vos flew with Trump to a rally in Alabama where the two discussed the Wisconsin investigation. In June, the former president accused Wisconsin GOP leadership of dragging their feet on the election probe and even of attempting to cover up known cases of fraud, something those in leadership disputed in no uncertain terms.

Governor Tony Evers on Monday called Gableman’s probe and its more than half a million dollar price tag “outrageous,” accusing GOP lawmakers of “drinking the Kool-Aid” by giving oxygen to the notion that the election was stolen from Trump.

President Joe Biden’s 20,000-vote win in the Badger State 10 months ago has withstood a limited recount demanded by Trump, as well as lawsuits that failed in both state and federal courts. Out of more than 3 million ballots cast, cases of potential fraud reported to district attorneys by election clerks have numbered in the dozens, two of which have led to fraud charges, according to Associated Press reports.

Since the election, Republicans in Wisconsin and nationwide have ceaselessly sown doubt that Biden’s win was legitimate, despite a dearth of solid evidence to the contrary. This effort led to the passage of legislation in Wisconsin attempting to restrict absentee voting, but Evers unilaterally vetoed those bills, refusing to sign anything into law that makes it harder to vote.

But Wisconsin GOP leaders have gone even further, responding to Trump and his supporters’ unwavering assertion that he was cheated out of a second term in office by opening wide-ranging investigations reportedly in search of violations of election law by voters and clerks and looking into the use of private money to administer the election, though they have avowed they are not trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

One probe spearheaded by Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau is expected to be finished in the fall. A letter from the bureau to lawmakers this past February implied it will be looking at questions raised about electronic voting systems and compliance with elections laws by clerks and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a six-member bipartisan agency that oversees the state’s elections.

Gableman’s investigation — which originally included two retired police officers hired by Vos that have since quit — is also expected to wrap up this fall. According to Vos, the investigation will dig into voting in nursing homes, adherence to voter residency requirements, tens of thousands of voters who claimed to be indefinitely confined and millions in donations provided by the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life given to Wisconsin municipalities to run their elections, the latter of which inspired a GOP-crafted law Evers vetoed in June.

Gableman has used some of his time and funding for that probe to visit Arizona’s audit and an election fraud symposium earlier this month in South Dakota hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a fervent megaphone for Trump’s fraud claims who has broadcast a wide variety of conspiracy theories, including that the 2020 election was hacked by China.

The Wisconsin Assembly’s Committee on Elections and Campaigns, controlled 6-3 by Republicans, has had hearings on the election this year as well. Committee chair and state Representative Janel Brandtjen, R- Menomonee Falls, recently attempted to use subpoenas to seize ballots and voting machines, which the Wisconsin Legislative Council signaled were invalid in part because Vos did not sign them. Vos has said he still does not plan to sign Brandtjen’s subpoenas but would sign subpoenas of the kind if Gableman sought them.

A group of Wisconsin voters — one of which spent time in prison after being convicted of fraud in Mississippi in 2009 — have launched another review of the election. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the group has been using public records laws and visits with election clerks across the state to get copies of ballots.

Evers, Vos and a Democratic lawmaker who serves on Wisconsin’s Committee on Elections and Campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment and updates on the state of Wisconsin’s election investigations on Monday.

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