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Robin Vos ordered to sit for deposition as part of election probe records lawsuit

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A Dane County judge on Tuesday ordered Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his attorney to sit for depositions as part of a liberal watchdog group’s lawsuit seeking public records related to the ongoing GOP-ordered review of the 2020 election.

Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn, who last week expressed confusion over how so few documents were produced from the first three months of former state Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman’s ongoing probe, denied a request by attorneys for Vos and his attorney, Steve Fawcett, seeking to block the depositions.

She ordered the two to meet with attorneys for American Oversight to provide additional details on how officials responded to the group’s multiple requests for public records — and answer questions about whether additional documents exist and have been withheld or were destroyed.

“The citizens of Wisconsin deserve the truth,” Bailey-Rihn said. “Either these records exist or they don’t.”

A small percentage of voters and witnesses made mistakes on their absentee ballot certificates in 2020. Here are some examples of the kinds of errors that were either allowed or corrected by the clerk in order to permit the ballot to be counted.

The case is one of three ongoing lawsuits brought by American Oversight following requests for records filed last year pertaining to Gableman’s review. Attorneys for American Oversight have asked that Vos be held in contempt for not releasing the records sooner.

“All of this requires some follow-up,” said Christa Westerberg, an attorney for American Oversight.

An attorney for Vos, Ronald Stadler, has said all available documents have been provided. On Tuesday, he said American Oversight’s claims of additional documents are based on suspicion. He described the lawsuit last week as a “backdoor discovery attempt.”

“This is a fishing expedition,” Stadler said Tuesday.

The depositions, which are not open to the public, have been scheduled for Jan. 12. Bailey-Rihn said questions must focus on documents requested by American Oversight and what efforts were made to locate the documents.

Bailey-Rihn has also scheduled a hearing for Jan. 24 to find out how thoroughly Vos and Assembly Chief Clerk Ted Blazel searched for records ordered to be released in a previous court decision almost two months ago. Bailey-Rihn has asked that a records custodian testify at the hearing.

American Oversight’s lawsuits are part of a growing list of court battles surrounding Gableman’s inquiry, which focuses on some of the procedures voters and clerks relied on for casting and processing ballots. Vos, R-Rochester, has allocated $676,000 in taxpayer money for the review, which has already run longer than projected and will likely end up costing more.

In another sign of a prolonged investigation, Gableman last week issued new subpoenas to officials with the Wisconsin Elections Commission and a handful of cities, including Madison, seeking emails, voting machine information and other election-related documents.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Rhonda Lanford plans to rule by Monday on whether Gableman has the authority to demand a private, in-person interview with Wisconsin elections administrator Meagan Wolfe. That case follows Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul’s October request for a restraining order against subpoenas issued by Gableman seeking election-related documents and the Wolfe interview.

In another case, a Waukesha County judge last month scheduled a hearing for Jan. 21 on Gableman’s request that the Waukesha County sheriff compel the mayors of Madison and Green Bay to meet with him or else face possible jail time.

Reviews of the election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty found no evidence of widespread fraud but did lead to recommendations on how elections can be improved. The commission earlier this month took the first steps in writing administrative rules on a number of issues raised in the Audit Bureau report, including rules regulating the use of ballot drop boxes and what missing information clerks can fill in on absentee ballot envelopes.

A recount and court decisions have affirmed that President Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes.

An analysis by The Associated Press found only 31 potential cases of voter fraud in Wisconsin’s 2020 election, which represents less than 0.15% of Biden’s margin of victory.

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 some 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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“To put it simply, we did not break the law,” the chair of the Elections Commission said.

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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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Thousands of ballot certifications examined from Madison are a window onto how elections officials handled a pandemic and a divided and unhelpful state government.

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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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