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GABLEMAN REPORT

Robin Vos has opposed key recommendations just issued by his elections investigator

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Robin Vos

Vos

After eight months and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, an investigation into the 2020 election delivered key recommendations that have been adamantly opposed by the probe’s chief overseer, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman suggested the Legislature decertify the 2020 results, which experts and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have described as a legal and constitutional impossibility — and something Vos has staunchly opposed, despite growing pressure from far-right conservatives.

A small percentage of voters and witnesses made mistakes on their absentee ballot certificates in 2020. Here are some examples of the kinds of errors that were either allowed or corrected by the clerk in order to permit the ballot to be counted.

What’s more, Gableman called for the “elimination and dismantling” of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, based largely on guidance the agency provided in 2020 to not send poll workers to nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vos, who has allocated $676,000 in taxpayer money to Gableman’s effort, also has opposed dismantling the agency he was a key player in creating less than seven years ago.

“Gableman is Vos’ Frankenstein’s monster,” said Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “The speaker, after having hired Gableman, is unable to control Gableman and he is running all over the field and trampling on our democracy — so much so that even Robin Vos doesn’t agree with his far-right fringe comments about letting the Legislature decertify the elections and basically canceling out everybody’s vote.”

Vos, R-Rochester, who did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, issued a terse statement hours after Gableman’s presentation thanking the former justice for his work while also criticizing the legal challenges filed against Gableman’s many subpoenas, which have led to delays in the now eight-month review. Vos did not comment on Gableman’s recommendations.

“I think Vos does owe an explanation — both on decertification and on the Wisconsin Elections Commission — as to whether or not he agrees with Gableman, and if he doesn’t, why is he continuing to hand Gableman taxpayer money to perpetuate ideas that Vos has already said can’t happen or shouldn’t happen,” said Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, who sits on the Assembly elections committee.

Gableman said on Tuesday he believes he still has a “legally enforceable contract” with the state, but added he and Vos continue to negotiate an extension to the agreement that expired at the end of December. He said a new contract could come with modifications, but did not provide specifics and suggested that he would continue to conduct the review even without a new contract.

‘Convenient place’

Speaking in a Twitter Spaces panel discussion on Gableman’s review on Wednesday, UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said the ongoing review could end up paying off for Vos down the road.

“It lets him demonstrate to the base of his party that, as (former President Donald Trump) continues to weigh in on these things, that he is seriously questioning the irregularities that people have raised about the election,” Burden said. “But it also gives him some distance from it. If the Gableman project goes off the rails, he can say, ‘It went off the rails’ or ‘It went too far.’

“Maybe by design or maybe by luck, I think it puts Vos in a convenient place that he can either embrace it or reject it depending on where it goes or sort of do both simultaneously depending on the audience,” Burden said.

Vos’ stance on the 2020 election has drawn ridicule from some within the party who want him to push harder on efforts to overturn the presidential election with some party activists calling to “toss Vos.” Late last month, Burlington resident Adam Steen, a Republican, launched a primary challenge against Vos for the 63rd Assembly District.

“We The People cannot expect any different than the status quo from the current leaders that are entrenched in Madison,” Steen said in a statement. “It is time to send actual representatives to the Capital to stand up for the rights of We The People.”

Agency scrutinized

Like many Republicans, Vos has criticized the state Elections Commission for how it administered the 2020 election, going so far as to call for the resignation of the agency’s nonpartisan administrator Meagan Wolfe. He has also said he believes five of the six members on the bipartisan commission should probably be charged with crimes for instructing clerks that they did not need to send poll workers into nursing homes.

However, Vos told The Associated Press earlier this year he opposes the call by some Republicans to dissolve the commission, which GOP lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker created in 2016 to replace the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which had been investigating Republican campaigns for coordinating with outside groups during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

“This idea that we need to blow up the entire system? I just don’t see that,” Vos said at the time. “I do not favor some kind of a radical change to how the elections commission operates.”

Vos’ opposition to decertifying the election has been more pronounced.

“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and I am never going to break that,” Vos said in a Feb. 18 interview with WISN. “It is unconstitutional for us to try to decertify the election. It is impossible, it cannot happen. I don’t know how many times I have to say that.”

“There are some who believe — there’s one who believes — that we somehow have the right (to withdraw electoral votes) even though every lawyer that we have worked with in Wisconsin says we cannot undo the 2020 elections,” Vos said in January in reference to efforts by Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport.

A recount and court decisions have affirmed that President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. A review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau found no evidence of widespread fraud and multiple court rulings have also found no evidence of irregularities.

More pushback

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, who is not seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly pushed back against claims that the Legislature can overturn an election.

“I can guarantee that I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections,” Steineke, R-Kaukauna, tweeted Tuesday in response to Gableman’s report.

Gableman wrote in the report that his intention is not to challenge the state’s certification, but an appendix in the document does “sketch how that might be done.” Legislative attorneys and the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau have repeatedly said the Legislature cannot challenge the certification of a presidential election, but Gableman wrote that logic is “defective.”

Gableman alleges that, if violations of election laws are found, “then the decision of which set of electors to certify (or decertify) devolves back upon the Wisconsin Legislature, where the plenary power to select electors was initially reposed.”

Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, a former county clerk who chairs the Senate elections committee and is also not running for reelection, described any effort to decertify an election as “futile.”

“If you’re going to decertify elections because of administrative malfeasance or breaking the law, then you can’t just decertify the presidential election. I would suggest you would have to decertify all of the candidates on that ballot,” Bernier said. “That might require common sense and logic. I’m not sure everyone has that these days.”

Rather than dismantle the elections commission, Bernier said she plans to soon introduce a bill that would add a seventh, nonpartisan seat to the six-member elections commission to eliminate 3-3 split votes, which increased last year and blocked clear guidance to local election officials trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vos said earlier this year he opposes such a measure, adding that “the idea that you can find this mythical, unicorn nonpartisan person, is specious at best.”

State Journal reporter Alexander Shur contributed to this report.

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The idea is in its infancy and all options, including declining to pursue anything, are on the table.

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