Wisconsin GOP leader: ‘Zero chance’ of taking over elections

Scott Bauer
Associated Press

Madison, Wis. – A top Republican lawmaker in the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin said Friday that there is “zero chance” the GOP-controlled Legislature will take over the awarding of the state’s 10 presidential elector votes in 2024, even as Democrats worry that is their goal.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told The Associated Press in an interview that he also opposes dissolving the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections, or making wholesale changes to how it operates.

Members of the Assembly applaud Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, as he speaks at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

His comments come after Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in November told lawmakers that 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 among Democrats. Republicans also want to ban the awarding of more private grant money to Democratic cities than is given to other smaller, Republican municipalities.

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.

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 & 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 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.