Poll workers prepare absentee ballots at Franklin's central count facility. Franklin is located in southwest Milwaukee County. Photo by David Wise, Nov. 3, 2020.

Two Assembly Republicans who traveled to Arizona to witness the partisan audit of the 2020 election told WisPolitics.com they’d like to see a similar review of Wisconsin’s presidential results as part of an ongoing Legislative Audit Bureau review.

But the ranking Dem member of the Campaign and Elections Committee called the idea of replicating the much-maligned Arizona audit in Wisconsin “ridiculous.”

Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls and chair of the Campaigns and Elections Committee, said she’s not sure the Legislative Audit Bureau has the authority to conduct such a review. But Brandtjen argued such a review was warranted considering the amount of private money that went into some of the state’s largest communities to help cover the costs of putting on the elections during a pandemic.

Republicans have raised concerns about grants from a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Some 200 communities received grants to help cover election costs, though the bulk of the money went to Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine. Republicans have passed a bill to ban such private grants going forward, though it would require Gov. Tony Evers’ signature to become law.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the Rochester Republican hadn’t spoken with Brandtjen about the trip since she returned.

“Listen, we need to restore integrity as we have huge numbers of individuals that have questions about a process that’s become highly politicized,” Brandtjen said of Wisconsin’s election procedures.

The Arizona audit includes all 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, where most Arizona residents live. It’s being conducted by the private company Cyber Ninja. The company’s CEO has tweeted support for conspiracy theories claiming Trump won Maricopa County and Arizona.

The audit, approved by Republicans in the Arizona Senate, includes taking images of the ballot as part of an examination said to determine if they are authentic.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week the Justice Department will take a look at whether any federal laws were broken as part of the audit. Meanwhile, the Maricopa County board, controlled 4-1 by Republicans, has denounced the audit, as have Arizona elected officials such as Dem Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Brandtjen traveled to Arizona on Friday and Saturday to learn about the audit. She was joined by: GOP Reps. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, of Appleton; Dave Murphy, of Greenville; and Chuck Wichgers, of Muskego. Murphy also said Wisconsin should look at a similar audit.

Voces and Votes, a 501(c)(4) run by an anchor for the conservative One America News Network, paid for the trip.

Rep. Mark Spreitzer, ranking Dem member of the Campaign and Elections Committee, said the call for an Arizona-style review in Wisconsin is a sign that Vos has lost control of efforts to review the 2020 election.

Vos charged the Campaign and Elections Committee with reviewing the 2020 election, and he has hired retired law enforcement officers to work in conjunction with the committee. They will be overseen by an attorney and can ask the committee to subpoena witnesses.

Spreitzer, D-Beloit, mocked the Arizona audit, including the allegation that ballots were shipped in from Asia and that investigators were looking for bamboo fibers to prove the claim. Spreitzer said he originally thought Vos was only trying to “fan the flames of voter suppression” to justify passing a string of bills to overhaul election laws. He said if GOP members now want to pursue the conspiracy theory that ballots were manufactured, it’s a sign the effort has taken a darker turn.

“The idea that we’re going to haul out the ballots and start looking for bamboo fibers is just ridiculous,” Spreitzer said.

Federal law requires ballots for a U.S. election to be preserved for 22 months. Under state law, ballots are considered public records and can be accessed once the period for a recount has passed.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee earlier this year directed LAB to review several issues, including efforts by the Elections Commission and local clerks to comply with state law, the use of electronic voting systems and complaints filed over the election. The audit is expected sometime this fall.

Murphy complained the media has distorted the audit. Murphy said he asked the company Cyber Ninja CEO about stories on the search for bamboo fibers and was told while the review would discover any if they existed, it wasn’t the main thrust of the audit.

“I think the press is trying to spin it in a different direction. It feels like they’re always trying to spin it in the most devious type of way that they possibly can,” Murphy said.

See the overview of the audit approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee here.

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