Despite multiple recounts, a lack of any evidence of widespread issues, and the danger of undermining faith in our democratic system, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing forward with their own partisan review of the 2020 presidential election. In late May, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced that he was hiring three former cops to conduct the investigation — but documents show that Vos and other legislative leaders began laying the groundwork more than a month earlier
Records recently obtained by American Oversight reveal that one of those former police officers, Mike Sandvick, met with Vos as early as April 6, 2021. Sandvick is no unbiased investigator: In 2008, while working for the Milwaukee Police, Sandvick wrote a report alleging large-scale voter fraud in the city — a report a federal judge said wasn’t trustworthy. And in recent years, Sandvick has worked with the Texas-based voting-restriction group True the Vote.
On March 23, the Assembly passed a resolution on a party-line vote authorizing the investigation and allowing the Campaigns and Elections Committee to issue subpoenas to compel testimony.
Two weeks later, in an email obtained by American Oversight, Vos’ chief of staff wrote that the speaker had “decided to set up in person meeting” with Sandvick for April 6. Invited to participate by phone were state Reps. Joe Sanfelippo, the vice chair of the elections committee, and Janel Brandtjen, the committee’s new chair who in December had said that there was “no doubt” that former President Donald Trump had won Wisconsin.
The next week, Sanfelippo was also invited “to meet on May 5th with an elections investigator in the Speaker’s office.” The records also contain a number of emails from private individuals sharing conspiracy-based concerns about voter fraud and voting machines.
The hiring of the three ex-law enforcement officials wasn’t publicly reported until May 26; two days later, Assembly leaders voted 5-3, again on party lines, to grant Vos the authority to make the hires. American Oversight immediately filed records requests with Vos’, Sanfelippo’s, and Brandtjen’s offices for communications about the investigation, and this week submitted additional requests to those offices for communications about efforts to challenge the results of the presidential election.
Vos has said that the goal of the investigation is not to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory. But the move is yet another partisan ploy — like the Arizona Senate’s sham “audit” of votes cast in Maricopa County — that serves to exacerbate mistrust in the integrity of U.S. elections. And it is not the first instance of Wisconsin officials attempting to undermine the 2020 election’s results.
Vos called for an investigation into fraud just a week after the election, and Sanfelippo said the legislature should consider overturning Wisconsin’s results pending the results of such an investigation — a move that would be illegal. American Oversight obtained a memo, prepared by the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau on Nov. 16 and forwarded by Vos’ chief of staff to the Assembly’s Republican members, that indicates that Vos’ office had “asked whether the legislature, after a presidential election, may affect the selection or actions of the state’s presidential electors.” The memo stated that “the legislature may determine the manner of selection of presidential electors but may not affect the selections or actions of presidential electors after the election.”
In early December, following recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties, Dean Knudson and Robert Spindell, both members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), called on WEC Chair Ann Jacobs to resign for having signed off on Wisconsin’s 2020 vote count without having involved the other commissioners. Jacobs was following the same process that had been in place in previous elections.
Knudson also filed complaints alleging that Evers and the WEC’s nonpartisan director had violated state laws. (In April, the commission determined that they both had acted properly.) And Spindell was one of 10 fake pro-Trump “electors” who had added their names in mid-December to a phony Wisconsin electoral vote certificate, which was submitted to Congress.
On Jan. 5, the day before the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, 15 members of the Wisconsin Assembly — including Sanfelippo and Brandtjen — signed on to a letter from lawmakers of five states asking Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the election results. The next month, lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved along party lines an audit of Wisconsin’s elections, conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau and separate from the investigation Vos is pursuing.
Like the bogus “audit” in Arizona, which has inspired similar partisan actors across the country, the Wisconsin investigation elevates baseless claims about widespread voter fraud that are then used as justification to make voting harder. The result of these sham election-review operations isn’t just the slew of new voting restrictions cropping up in various states — it’s also the erosion of faith in our democratic system.
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