Wisconsin election probe: Data analysis estimated to cost $325K

Nearly half of the money being spent on a Republican-ordered investigation into Wisconsin's 2020 presidential election is earmarked for data analysis, 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, showing that the investigation will likely focus on an examination of ballots and voting machines. It also sets aside $25,000 each for the hiring of 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 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.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, the chief election official in the state’s second largest county, said he wasn’t sure what the investigation would entail or exactly what "data analysis" meant. But McDonell said he was confident in the election results, which have already been through a Trump-ordered recount that resulted in a net change of 45 votes for Trump in Dane County out of nearly 345,000 cast in the election.

"I don’t know what’s about to happen," McDonell said. "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.

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"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."

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.

Johnson said Sunday that there was "nothing obviously skewed about the results in Wisconsin" while also supporting the investigation. He made his comments to a liberal activist from the web-based program "The Undercurrent" and a member of Democracy Partners, a group aligned with Democrats. She posted their interaction Tuesday on Twitter. It was taped during a conservative event Sunday.

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Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter that he did not support focusing on voting machines, as some conservatives have called for. Gableman has said that reviewing voting machines will be one of his priorities for the investigation.

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.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, on Monday called the $680,000 being spent on the Gableman investigation "outrageous" and a waste of taxpayer money.

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