Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Soon after the November 2020 election results came in Assembly Speaker and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) began his assault on truth. He saluted his own election victory in his gerrymandered district as “a repudiation of Tony Evers leadership style.” Yet he also claimed there were election irregularities in Wisconsin while offering no evidence of this.

How could the election be so vindicating and yet untrustworthy? A mere detail for Vos, whose goal was to promote the Big Lie of election fraud pushed by Donald Trump. Vos called for the state Assembly to investigate the November election and just to make sure it came up with right results, he appointed Janel Brandtjen to head the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, replacing the more moderate Rep. Ron Tusler. Brandtjen had sent a letter to her constituents charring that “There is no doubt that… Donald Trump won this election in Wisconsin and several methods of fraud were used to change the outcome.” 

Brandtjen’s committee’s lead testimony came from talk radio entertainer Dan O’Donnell, who claimed, without any evidence, that there were enough fraudulent votes to overturn the Wisconsin election result. Republicans had promised that the state officials who oversee and assure the integrity of elections, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, would be invited to testify, but they were not invited. Instead the committee heard from “anonymous stories or disgruntled citizens who didn’t like where employees doing the recount were standing or the fact that they were forced to be socially distanced,” as the Wisconsin Examiner reported.  “Speaker after speaker made it clear that they believe, without evidence, that mail-in ballots were riddled with fraud.”

The Elections Commission was established by a change in law by Vos and  Republican legislators, to get a commission more to their liking. And the commission, which does an annual report on fraud, has repeatedly found few cases. Its report on the November 2020 election found just 13 possible cases of fraud out of 3.3 million votes.

in short, no evidence of widespread fraud, as Trump and other Republicans repeatedly claimed. Republican Dean Knudson, a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission appointed by Vos, flatly rejected these claims: “There has been no credible evidence presented to the Elections Commission that any of these problems occurred in Wisconsin,” Knudsen said.

Several suits filed in courts by Republicans all were thrown out, with judges finding no reason to question the election results. Former Gov. Scott Walker declared that any recount was unlikely to change the results because Wisconsin elections were so accurate. Sure enough, recounts in Dane and Milwaukee counties found the results were accurate and had actually undercounted Democrat Joe Biden’s 20,000 vote margin total by 87 votes. 

But the repeated claims by Trump, Vos and other Republicans had convinced many Republican voters that fraud had occurred. Republican lawmakers noted they had received thousands of complaints of this from constituents. And so the the Wisconsin State Journal reviewed all the complaints, requested through the Wisconsin open records law, and found “the majority of them, however, were mass-generated form letters making nonspecific claims about alleged irregularities, a right-wing fraud-finding effort and a clip from Fox’s Sean Hannity show.” The newspaper “was able to identify just 28 allegations of election fraud or other irregularities that were specific enough to attempt to verify, but could only partially substantiate one.”

Nonetheless Vos and Republicans have asked the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau to do an investigation of the election, which will probably amount to re-doing the work done by the Elections Commission — all paid for taxpayers. But the goal isn’t new information, but to help keep alive the idea that there was something fishy about the election. 

The latest move by Vos is a classic: he announced he was hiring retired police officers to investigate the November election. They will be asked to look at how some local governments spend foundation grants to help conduct elections — something Republicans have already challenged in court only to have judges strike down the complaint. The ex-cops may also look into claims of double voting, something the Elections Commission does every year and has never found a major problem, as Vos’ appointee to the commission has noted. And they will review how clerks fixed absentee ballot credentials — something adjudicated in several court cases, with judges throwing out the complaints. 

Vos did not disclose who these police officers would be, but then went on talk radio with O’Donnell and confirmed that Mike Sandvick, a retired Milwaukee police detective, was hired.

“In all honesty, he has Republican leanings,” Vos told The Associated Press in an interview. “He’s been active in the Republican Party.”

Vos no doubt admitted this because the AP confronted him with information about Sandvick’s background. As its story reported, Sandvick “did work 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 that is aligned with the tea party movement.”

And before that Sandvick was notorious for a report he did in 2008 claiming election fraud in Milwaukee. As Scott Bauer reported, “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.”

Vos has yet to reveal who the other two retired officers are, but their agenda is clear: make the same kind of claims Sandvick and Vos have made in the past, of voting irregularities, without worrying over much about the truth. The goal is not election integrity, but to continue to fuel doubts about Wisconsin’s elections, to justify unneeded legislation Republicans are pushing that is intended to suppress the vote in Democratic-leaning cities. That’s why the Big Lie must be repeated over and over. 

More about the 2020 General Election

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