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GOP-drafted contracts cover probe into potential Wisconsin vote 'illegalities'

Retired police officers hired by Wisconsin Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are being paid $3,200 a month to investigate “potential irregularities and/or illegalities” in the 2020 presidential election, contracts obtained by The Associated Press show.

The investigators will be paid $9,600 each over three months to conduct the probe, according to the documents obtained Thursday. Vos, R-Rochester, signed two contracts in recent days and has said he intends to hire a third investigator and an attorney to oversee the probe.

Vos last month announced plans to have officers investigate the election results as part of the Republican response to former President Donald Trump’s narrow loss in Wisconsin. Republicans have also ordered a review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and they have passed several bills tightening rules for absentee voting, measures Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is all but certain to veto.

In Wisconsin, local election officials identified just 27 cases of potential voter fraud out of nearly 3.3 million votes cast in the November election that they forwarded to prosecutors. No charges have been brought in any of the cases.

Republicans in other states are also conducting audits and reviews after Trump made unproven and discredited allegations of widespread voter fraud and abuse. Several Wisconsin Republican lawmakers recently traveled to Arizona to observe an audit being conducted there. Vos has said he does not anticipate a similar review in Wisconsin, citing his hiring of the retired investigators instead.

In 'thousands of complaints' about Wisconsin election, few that could be substantiated

The investigators hired to date are Mike Sandvick, a retired Milwaukee police detective with ties to the GOP, and Steve Page, who Vos has said previously worked for the city of Eau Claire. Page’s name had not been made public prior to the AP obtaining the contract.

Vos has not named the other two people he intends to hire, but has said the other retired officer used to work for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and investigated former Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt over election law violations.

Vos spokesperson Angela Joyce did not return a message seeking comment on the contracts signed or the status of the other agreements. Vos signed the contract with Sandvick on June 16 and the one with Page on Wednesday.

The terms of the contracts are identical. Sandvick and Page have been hired for June, July and August and are to be paid $3,200 a month by taxpayers.

They are tasked with following leads and allegations submitted to the Assembly elections committee, raised in the media, provided to members of the Legislature or generated during the course of the probe. The final report is to be submitted to Vos.

The contract does not discuss gaining access to the actual ballots, as was done in the Arizona audit. Vos said this week that it’s “unlikely” that would happen in Wisconsin because of the Legislative Audit Bureau review that’s underway and audits of ballots already conducted per state law.

Democrats have been highly critical of the effort, which they say is meant to perpetrate the discredited lie that Trump won the 2020 election. Vos has defended it as a way to address concerns raised that have undermined confidence in the election process.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

“Speaker Vos and Assembly Republicans are wasting taxpayer dollars on a sham investigation that validates and prolongs the Big Lie, undermines our democracy, and perpetuates the type of rhetoric that led to the January 6th insurrection,” Hintz said in a statement.

Sandvick’s hiring drew particular scorn from Democrats because of his prior work related to elections.

A 2008 report Sandvick wrote about the 2004 presidential election recommended that Wisconsin election laws be changed in light of what he called voter fraud. That report has since been referenced by conservatives as evidence of unchecked fraud. However, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI all disavowed the report.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman did not allow the report to be admitted as evidence in a lawsuit over Wisconsin’s voter ID law, saying it was not trustworthy.

Sandvick later worked on an “election integrity” committee established by the Wisconsin Republican Party and was briefly state director for True the Vote, a Texas group focused on voter fraud aligned with the tea party movement.

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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