Wisconsin’s Baseless Investigation of the 2020 Election

Wisconsin has joined a growing list of states where allies of former President Trump have launched bogus “investigations” as part of an effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results and perpetuate the big lie that the election was somehow stolen.

On May 26, 2021, more than six months after the 2020 presidential election, Wisconsin’s top Republican lawmaker announced that he would be hiring three retired police officers and an attorney to conduct a new investigation of the election results.

The announcement by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made Wisconsin the third state in recent months — following Arizona’s ongoing and widely discredited “audit” of votes cast in the state’s largest county and the news in late May that a Georgia judge would be allowing a review of more than 100,000 mail-in ballots — in which Trump allies have initiated baseless inquiries into the 2020 election.

The results of the 2020 presidential election are not in doubt and there have been no credible allegations of fraud or misconduct that could have affected the outcome in any state. Dozens of lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters failed to show evidence of widespread fraud and have been rejected by judges across the country. 

On May 24, just days before Vos announced his new investigation, the Wisconsin Elections Commission released a report showing that only 27 voters — out of 3.3 million who participated in the November election — had been referred to prosecutors for election-related violations. The report further undermined claims made by Trump that rampant voter fraud had cost him the election in Wisconsin. 

In August, conservative former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who in November 2020 said “bureaucrats” were being allowed to “steal our vote,” was appointed to lead the taxpayer-funded “investigation” into the 2020 election. Gableman’s first request, sent to the state’s county clerks, was an email sent from a personal Gmail account, which landed in some spam folders and raised security concerns.

In addition to perpetuating Trump’s big lie that the election was somehow stolen, one of the main objectives of such sham election audits is to create a pretext for enacting new restrictions on voting rights. The Journal Sentinel reported that Vos intends to use the results of his investigation to “identify laws that should be changed,” and Republican lawmakers in more than two dozen states have already cited false claims of voter fraud as justification for pushing anti-voting measures. Follow our investigation into these and other attacks on voting rights.

American Oversight is investigating Vos’ election inquiry and its potential connection to similar “audits” fueled by the big lie. We filed multiple public records requests in Wisconsin seeking to uncover key documents, including:

  • Any contracts between the Wisconsin Assembly and parties investigating the election, including the former law enforcement officers and the attorney supervisor;
  • Guidance, memos, or other directives regarding the scope of the investigation, its duration, or procedures for handling voter information;
  • Records of bids, project proposals, or cost estimates for the investigation, as well as records of any invoices or payments; 
  • Communications of Vos and two other lawmakers, state Reps. Janel Brandtjen and Joe Sanfelippo, regarding the investigation, as well as their communications with outside groups or individuals, including Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Cleta Mitchell, and others.

The Wisconsin Assembly released some documents in response to our open records requests, but it did not produce any documents related to the contractors hired to conduct the baseless election review. On Oct. 8, American Oversight sued the Assembly and Vos for failing to release all of the requested records, and that same day the court ordered the Assembly and Vos to “immediately” release the documents or show cause.

Updates

American Oversight Files Motion to Hold Speaker Vos in Contempt for Failure to Comply with Wisconsin Public Records Law

December 3, 2021
On Friday, American Oversight asked the court to hold Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Vos in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court’s order to release contractors’ records related to the baseless investigation of the 2020 election.

News Roundup: Robin Vos and Michael Gableman’s Partisan Investigation

December 3, 2021
Wisconsin’s partisan election investigation got a dose of public accountability this week.

Five Key Questions About Wisconsin’s Election Investigation

November 30, 2021
There are important questions about this taxpayer-funded investigation that the people of Wisconsin deserve answered.

Expense Records Reveal New Details about Wisconsin’s Partisan Election Investigation

November 24, 2021
The documents obtained by American Oversight include details about travel and reimbursements, as well as information about the investigation’s office space, which includes sublease agreements with conservative lawyers paying much of the total rent.

News Roundup: The Lasting Damage of Partisan Election Reviews

November 19, 2021
A new poll finds that the bogus Arizona “audit” reinforced doubts about the 2020 election. And the partisan investigation in Wisconsin has escalated into calls for a Republican takeover of elections in the state.

News Roundup: January 6, Wisconsin’s Partisan Election Review, and Transparency in Georgia

November 11, 2021
The investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection — and, more specifically, into what Trump was doing when the mob overran the U.S. Capitol — accelerated this week, with new public documents, new subpoenas, and a new court ruling.

Court Orders Release of Wisconsin Election Investigation Records

November 5, 2021
Assembly and Speaker Robin Vos must release within 10 days records created prior to Aug. 27 related to the Assembly’s partisan review of the 2020 election.

News Roundup: The Before, During — and After — of the Jan. 6 Attack

November 4, 2021
The Washington Post’s investigation into the Capitol insurrection, and the latest on partisan election reviews in Arizona, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

News Roundup: Jan. 6 Accountability and Election ‘Audit’ Transparency

October 22, 2021
The Jan. 6 attack isn’t the only consequence of the Big Lie that Trump allies are trying to shield from public scrutiny.

American Oversight Files Second Lawsuit Against Wisconsin Assembly Speaker for Election Investigation Records

October 19, 2021
This is the second lawsuit filed by American Oversight for records about the Assembly’s partisan election inquiry.

News Roundup: Sham Wisconsin Election Investigation Has Rough Couple Weeks

October 15, 2021
The partisan election investigation currently underway in Wisconsin has had a bumpy couple of weeks, thanks to a series of missteps by the attorney leading the review and confusion surrounding recent subpoenas issued to various county and city officials.

Court Orders Wisconsin Assembly to ‘Immediately’ Release Records from Election Investigation or Show Cause

October 8, 2021
In the order, the judge wrote that it appears Vos and the Assembly had “unjustifiably withheld and refused to release the contractor records to which the Petitioner is entitled,”

News Roundup: Congressional Hearing on Arizona ‘Audit’; Lawsuit Against Wisconsin Assembly; and New Report on Trump’s DOJ Pressure Campaign

October 8, 2021
Arizona’s bogus election review continues to have far-reaching, democracy-undermining effects in Texas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

American Oversight Sues Wisconsin Assembly, Speaker Vos for Election ‘Investigation’ Records

October 8, 2021
The Assembly has failed to release documents related to its baseless and partisan investigation of the 2020 election, including records from hired contractors.

From Voter-Fraud Myths to Bogus Election Audits: The Evolution of the Big Lie

September 13, 2021
On Monday, American Oversight published an in-depth look at the "Big Lie" and the decades-long campaign by conservative activists and lawmakers to hype up the threat of voter fraud.

News Roundup: Warming Planet, Surging Pandemic, and Election-Undermining Reviews

August 13, 2021
It's been a busy news week, from the fast-growing U.S. surge in Covid-19 cases and the new "code red" report on global warming to news about efforts past and present to undermine the 2020 presidential election.

News Roundup: The Big Lie’s Long Reach

August 5, 2021
New details continue to emerge about the attempts by former President Trump and his allies to subvert the results of the 2020 election.

News Roundup: From the Trump White House to Wisconsin

June 17, 2021
New emails released to Congress show the former president exerting pressure on Justice Department officials to support his baseless fraud claims. The lies haven't disappeared.

The Latest Attempt by Wisconsin Legislative Leaders to Undermine Election Has Been in the Works for Months

June 17, 2021
Emails uncovered by American Oversight reveal an early April meeting between legislative leaders and one of the former police officers hired to investigate the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

News Roundup: Undermining Democracy, One ‘Audit’ at a Time

June 3, 2021
After visiting the sham audit of votes cast in Maricopa County, Ariz., this week, Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers have called for their state to conduct a similar partisan review.
Show all updates

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