Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), center, is flanked by Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), left, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) during a July 2021 press conference. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), center, is flanked by Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), left, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) during a July 2021 press conference. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos met with some of the conspiracy theorists trying to overturn the 2020 election. Others had to entertain reporters in the hallway.

In a sign of just how far to the right the Wisconsin Republican Party has drifted, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) on Wednesday met with supporters of an unconstitutional and baseless effort to decertify President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in the state.

Vos emerged from the meeting telling reporters that while he believes widespread fraud occurred during the 2020 election—a lie that has been debunked over and over again, even by multiple conservative groups—he does not believe he can decertify the 2020 election, even if he wanted to.

“We don’t have the ability to unilaterally overturn the election,” Vos said. “It can’t happen.”

Vos said that the constitution “doesn’t allow me to decertify any of the elections, whether I want to or not. That’s not going to happen.”

His comments came at the end of a busy and controversial morning. Prior to the meeting, Vos informed Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), a conspiracy theorist and candidate for governor, that he wasn’t allowed to be part of the conversation. 

“More obstruction,” Ramthun said as he exited the room. “This is what I have been dealing with now for 17 months.”

The meeting came as Vos faces continued pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, including Ramthun, who support the lie that the election was stolen due to voter fraud. Supporters of this lie argue Vos has not done enough to combat voter fraud and should support decertification. 

While arguing that decertification is not possible, Vos has taken steps to appease those who want more aggressive action—even if it means sowing further mistrust in the election process, the engine of American democracy. Vos previously commissioned former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and Trump administration employee Michael Gableman to commission an investigation into the 2020 election results in the state.

Gableman, known as being an extremely partisan Republican, recently presented his conspiracy theory-filled report to the legislature and encouraged lawmakers to consider decertifying Biden’s win—which, according to an analysis from the Republican-led legislature’s own lawyers, cannot be done

“There is no mechanism in state or federal law for the Legislature to reverse certified votes cast by the Electoral College and counted by Congress,” the analysis found. Rick Esenberg, the leader of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, also believes decertification is illegal. 

Even Gableman has acknowledged such a decertification would have no real impact on Biden’s presidency. And yet, he and other Trump supporters continue to sow doubt around the outcome of the 2020 election and push efforts that would make it harder for Wisconsinites to vote.

Vos recently authorized Gableman’s investigation to continue, and Trump recently pushed him to act on Gableman’s report. 

“I feel confident that Robin will exercise his moral duty to follow up on Justice Gableman’s findings,” Trump said in a statement last week. “Based on the Gableman report, I would imagine that there can only be a Decertification of Electors.”

Trump’s year-long effort to excuse his loss with lies rather than admit defeat has had a devastating impact on trust in America’s election systems among Republican voters. A recent Marquette University Law School poll of Wisconsin residents found that 61% of Republican voters were not confident in the outcome of the 2020 election, while only 38% were confident that the results were accurate. 

Among the wider electorate, 67% of voters said they were very or somewhat confident the 2020 election results were accurate, while only 31% were not confident in the accuracy of the election results.

Now, Vos has given Trump’s lies further credence by meeting with decertification supporters, including former Menomonee Falls village president Jefferson Davis, who wants Biden’s win retracted or for the election to be held again. Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Davis told the Associated Press that his coalition would be presenting evidence to Vos that shows there were between 250,000 and 300,000 fake ballots cast in the election and that decertification can legally be done.

Adam Steen, a conservative running against Vos in the Republican primary, also showed up outside Vos’s Capitol office during the closed meeting. Steen recently called on every member of the legislature to publicly state where they stand on the issue—something designed to pressure remaining moderate Republicans who wish the 2020 election matter would quietly go away.

“I would like for the Wisconsin Legislature to take a roll-call vote and determine whether the assemblymen and women stand with the people,” Steen said over the weekend at a Republican caucus event in Racine. “The decertification is not to pull back the presidency. It’s almost a litmus test.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.