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ELECTION PROBE OPEN RECORDS LITIGATION

Taxpayers to cover attorney fees in Wisconsin election review open records case

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Wisconsin taxpayers will front more than $95,000 for attorney fees after a Dane County judge found Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in contempt for failing to properly respond to open records requests related to the partisan 2020 election review conducted by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled in favor of liberal watchdog group American Oversight’s request for attorney fees in the case, which ultimately found that Gableman spent the first two months of his review largely getting familiar with how Wisconsin elections are conducted. Gableman was hired last summer at a cost of $676,000 to taxpayers, but legal fees and other court expenses have pushed the price tag to more than $1 million.

Bailey-Rihn also declined to award punitive damages in the case, which was filed against Vos, R-Rochester, who hired Gableman to lead the probe. The case is one of four filed by American Oversight against Vos, the state Assembly and Gableman seeking public records related to the review.

“The people of the state of Wisconsin have been punished enough for this case,” Bailey-Rihn said.

“Their benefit is they got to see their government in action,” Bailey-Rihn added. “They’re responsible for the legal fees that have to be paid to the petitioner. But I don’t think that it does anyone any good to have punitive damages to be placed on the innocent citizens of the state.”

Gableman testified last month that he spent most of July and August last year getting familiar with Wisconsin elections at a public library in New Berlin because he does not own a personal computer. He also attended a pair of meetings, including one hosted by MyPillow CEO and election denier Mike Lindell.

Gableman also used his personal Yahoo email account during the first two months of his review, before he received an official state email address. Gableman said he had a staffer delete the personal account sometime in August, after a records request was filed, and said those documents cannot be recovered.

“I guess what we found out from this long and torturous road is that, at least for the first part of this investigation, there was no actual work being done,” Bailey-Rihn said. “The taxpayers were paying $11,000 for somebody to sit at the New Berlin library to learn about election law because they had no experience in election law.”

A recount, court decisions and multiple reviews have affirmed that Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by about 21,000 votes in the state’s 2020 presidential election. Only 24 people out of nearly 3.3 million who cast ballots have been charged with election fraud in Wisconsin.

“We have absolutely found out from this case, at least in my case, that there was absolutely no evidence of election fraud,” Bailey-Rihn said.

In a separate case, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington last month held Gableman’s office in contempt after the former justice refused to testify and accused Remington of being a partisan “advocate.”

Remington ordered Gableman be fined $2,000 a day until he complies. He also directed Gableman’s “sneering” conduct in Remington’s courtroom to the office that regulates attorneys and judges in Wisconsin to take possible action against his license to practice law.

Gableman has appealed the ruling and is seeking a review by a three-judge panel in Wisconsin’s District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha.

The 2020 election is over. Here’s what happened (and what didn’t)

The 2020 election was “the most secure in American history,” according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which coordinates the nation’s election infrastructure.

While a handful of voters risked going to prison by attempting to vote twice or in the name of a dead relative, as happens in any election, no evidence of widespread fraud has ever been produced in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

Yet, many continue to question some of the practices clerks relied on to encourage eligible voters to cast ballots and make sure their votes were counted amid the first election in more than 100 years held during a pandemic.

The Wisconsin State Journal has covered every twist and turn of this debate in scores of stories. But here are a few that offered some broader context about what happened, and didn't happen, in the election of 2020.

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The state has multiple, overlapping safeguards aimed at preventing ineligible voters from casting ballots, tampering with the ballots or altering vote totals.

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Nothing in the emails suggests there were problems with the election that contributed in any meaningful way to Trump's 20,682-vote loss to Joe Biden.

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"Despite concerns with statewide elections procedures, this audit showed us that the election was largely safe and secure," Sen. Rob Cowles said Friday.

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The grants were provided to every Wisconsin municipality that asked for them, and in the amounts they asked for. 

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"Application of the U.S. Department of Justice guidance among the clerks in Wisconsin is not uniform," the memo says.

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YORKVILLE — The Racine County Sheriff’s Office announced in a Thursday morning news conference that it has identified eight cases of what it believes to be election fraud at a Mount Pleasant nursing home.

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The memo states that state law gives the Audit Bureau complete access to all records during an audit investigation and federal law and guidance does not prohibit an election official from handing over election records.

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Drop boxes were used throughout Wisconsin, including in areas where Trump won the vast majority of counties.

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"I don't think that you instill confidence in a process by kind of blindly assuming there's nothing to see here," WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg said.

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The report is the latest to show that there was not widespread fraud in Wisconsin.

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The clear insinuation was that someone not qualified to conduct an election improperly influenced these vulnerable voters. But the Wisconsin State Journal could not confirm the data. 

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The turnout at nursing homes in Brown, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine counties in 2020 was not much different from the turnout in 2016.

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