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'Zero chance' of Legislature taking over elections, Wisconsin GOP leader says

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Friday there is “zero chance” the GOP-controlled Legislature would seek to take over the awarding of the Wisconsin’s 10 presidential elector votes in the swing state in 2024, a strategy Democrats have warned Republicans are secretly pursuing.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Vos said he also opposes dissolving the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections, or making wholesale changes to how it operates.

His comments come after Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in November told lawmakers he wanted them to take over elections and tell local officials to ignore the work of the Elections Commission.

There has been an intense focus on Wisconsin and its election laws since President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by nearly 21,000 votes last year. Trump and his allies falsely claimed the election was stolen, and some Republican lawmakers have pushed conspiracy theories and other baseless claims in attempts to undo the results and make wholesale changes before the 2024 presidential election.

Similar efforts by Republicans are ongoing in other states.

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

Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu made similar comments earlier this week.

Trump and his allies wanted the Legislature to overturn the results of the last election, but it did not have the power to do that and the state’s 10 electors were awarded to Biden.

“There is zero chance as long as I am speaker that we are going to have the Legislature take over awarding electors and all those kind of things,” Vos said. “It’s not going to happen. That’s just a false argument. We’re going to win the election because we’re going to change the rules to make sure that they’re fair to everybody, not to one side.”

Republican leaders said the Legislature will be taking up a number of election law changes this spring, most likely in March. All of them are likely to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is up for reelection in November and has made defending the current election law and practices a central tenet of his campaign.

Democrats argue that the legal changes Republicans are seeking, such as limiting the number and location of absentee ballot boxes and making it more difficult for indefinitely confined people to cast absentee ballots, are designed to dampen turnout in Democratic areas. Republicans also want to ban the awarding of more private grant money, which went disproportionately to the state’s five largest Democratic cities in 2020, even though many municipalities where Trump won also got grant money.

Vos and Republicans contend that having uniform election rules, similar to the law that says polls must be open for the same hours statewide, are about fairness, not giving one side an advantage over the other.

“It’s not about taking away anyone’s right to vote,” Vos said. “It’s about making sure that everybody has the same access without some people getting special privileges.”

He accused Democrats of “fearmongering.”

The Legislature’s role in elections should be the same as it is with other state agencies, which is approving administrative rules that those agencies put forward to enact laws that were passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, Vos said.

Some Republicans are calling for the dissolution of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which the Legislature voted to create in 2015. Vos said he wants to see that commission continue to operate in its current role, with some modifications, but that he opposes shifting the responsibility of running elections to the Legislature.

Action planned

Vos said the Assembly plans to vote on elections bills in March, after a report on the 2020 election being led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is completed. Vos said he wants that report to be finished no later than the end of February and that he does not anticipate spending any more than the $676,000 in taxpayer money he allotted for the investigation last year.

There are numerous pending lawsuits related to the probe, including a fight over subpoenas Gableman issued to the elections commission and the mayors of Green Bay and Madison.

Vos said the Republican bills will address Gableman’s recommendations and concerns raised by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau in a report it issued last fall and findings made by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

One of the audit bureau’s findings that has particularly angered Republicans is that the Elections Commission did not follow the law when it voted not to send poll workers into nursing homes to assist elderly residents with voting in 2020. The vote came at a time when most nursing homes were not allowing visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission directed clerks to mail absentee ballots to people in nursing homes who had requested them.

Both the audit bureau and WILL report found no widespread fraud. Biden’s win has withstood recounts and numerous lawsuits. An Associated Press review of votes cast in battleground states contested by Trump, including Wisconsin, found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome. Some of those cases involved registered Republicans and people who said they supported Trump.

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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