MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Nearly half of the money being spent on a Republican-ordered investigation into Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election is earmarked for data analysis related to voting machines, a contract released Wednesday spelling out how the $676,000 in taxpayer money will be spent shows.
The Associated Press obtained the contract entered into by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading the probe, under the state open records law.
It shows that $325,000 is set aside for a data analysis contractor under the category of “voting machines,” a focus of the investigation. It also sets aside $25,000 each for Gableman to pay five investigators. Gableman is to be paid $55,000 over the life of the contract, which runs from Aug. 1 through the end of the year.
There is also $15,000 earmarked for communications, $50,000 for attorney fees, $25,000 for travel, $16,000 for an assistant to Gableman and $50,000 for court reporting.
The contract calls for using taxpayer money on the probe, not campaign donations or other funds as was done in a widely discredited election audit in Arizona.
Republicans are moving ahead with the investigation in the battleground state President Joe Biden won by just under 21,000 votes over former President Donald Trump. Trump met with Vos last week and encouraged the probe, which also has the backing of other Republicans in the state, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for reelection next year.
Johnson has spoken in support of the investigation while also saying there was “nothing obviously skewed about the results in Wisconsin.” He made the comments to Lauren Windsor, a liberal activist who was posing as a conservative at an event on Sunday and taped Johnson secretly.
Windsor works for the web-based program “The Undercurrent” and posted videos of Johnson's comments this week. Johnson told her that he did not support focusing on voting machines, even though that’s what the Gableman investigation will do. He also repeatedly said he felt the election was fair.
It's “probably true that Biden maybe got 7 million more popular votes," Johnson said. "That’s the electoral reality. So to just say for sure that this was a stolen election, I don’t agree with that.”
Democrats pointed to the Johnson comments as further proof that Republicans know the election was fair but they are proceeding with the investigation just to please the most conservative people in their base who are demanding it.
“Taxpayers should be outraged,” said Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz. “I never thought we would reach a day where we would have a contract that enabled a conspiracy theory undermining trust in our election system.”
Republicans have questioned numerous aspects of the 2020 election, but produced no evidence of widespread fraud. Biden’s win over Trump has also withstood recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and numerous state and federal lawsuits filed by Trump and his supporters. To date, only two people out of 3.3 million votes cast have been charged with election fraud.
Gableman said in an interview with WISN-TV last month that he wanted to learn more about voting machines and how they worked, including the process of reporting official totals to the state elections commission.
Vos has said that in addition to voting machines, he expects the probe to look closely at advice given by the state elections commission for clerks to follow; voting practices in nursing homes; and the influence of donations from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, that gave more than $6 million to Wisconsin’s five largest cities, all of which lean Democratic.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, the chief election official in the state’s second largest county and a Democratic stronghold, said he was confident in the election results. A recount in Dane County, ordered by Trump, resulted in a net change of 45 votes for Trump out of nearly 345,000 cast in the election.
“I don’t know what’s about to happen,” McDonell said of the investigation. “I have complete confidence in the results and how the election was run. This was the most secure and accurate election in our history. That’s the facts.”
McDonell said he feared a breach of security in voting equipment as a result of the investigation, something that has alarmed election security experts.
“The machines, they need to be protected,” McDonell said. “They are critical infrastructure as defined by homeland security. There’s no way we’re going to compromise the security of our elections and void the warranties on our machines. It’s not going to happen unless a court orders it.”
The Gableman investigation is in addition to one underway by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. That review was also ordered by Republicans. Both are expected to be done by the fall.