Wisconsin Attorney General Files Lawsuit Challenging State Senate’s Vote To Remove Top Election Official

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Sept. 14, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin Senate Republicans’ recent vote to remove Meagan Wolfe — the state’s top election official — from her role as administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). The legal action filed on behalf of WEC and Wolfe ensued just hours after the state Senate voted 22-11 along party lines to remove Wolfe on Thursday. 

Republicans’ move to reject the reappointment of Wolfe — which the new lawsuit contends “has no legal effect” — was the culmination of a convoluted process that was fueled by conspiracies and election denialism surrounding the 2020 presidential election. As a nonpartisan election official, Wolfe was nominated to lead WEC — the state’s bipartisan election regulatory agency — by the commission itself in 2019 and was confirmed by the Wisconsin Senate with unanimous support. However, in an ironic twist, the same Republican legislators who praised Wolfe’s confirmation lead the calls for her resignation beginning in 2021.

The new lawsuit chronicles the series of events leading up to the state Senate’s allegedly illegal vote to remove Wolfe yesterday. Towards the end of Wolfe’s term set to expire in July 2023, WEC held a vote to reappoint Wolfe, but ultimately failed to secure the majority necessary to do so, with only three out of six commissioners voting to appoint Wolfe to serve another term. The commission’s deadlock resulted from three Democratic commissioners abstaining from the vote out of fear that the reappointment process would allow the Republican-controlled Senate to reject Wolfe’s reappointment. 

Despite the impasse at WEC, Wolfe’s tenure automatically rolled over as permitted by state statute and there is currently no vacancy in the administrator position according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically points to last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court decision by the then-conservative majority ruling that a holdover appointee can remain in office “after their term expires” and that the expiration of their term “does not create a vacancy” in the position. 

Kaul’s lawsuit argues that although Wolfe was never officially “reappointed” by a majority of WEC commissioners as required under Wisconsin law, the state Senate nonetheless proceeded to declare via a June resolution that WEC had nominated Wolfe for reappointment. Prior to yesterday’s vote, both Kaul and the Wisconsin Legislative Council warned that the state Senate’s purported nomination of Wolfe did not meet the requirements prescribed by Wisconsin law. Nevertheless, the state Senate flouted these warnings and proceeded to reject Wolfe’s reappointment with yesterday’s vote. 

The lawsuit claims that while the “Senate has the power to consent to or reject the appointment of an administrator by the Commission,” it has “no power to act on an appointment where there is no pending appointment.” The lawsuit ultimately asks the court to rule that Wolfe is lawfully holding over in her current position as WEC administrator and to declare that the state Senate lacks the power to reject her. 

“[T]he senate has blatantly disregarded state law in order to put its full stamp of approval on the ongoing baseless attacks on our democracy,” stated Kaul in a press release. “We are going to court to minimize the confusion resulting from today’s stunt and to protect a pillar of our democracy—the fair administration of elections.”

Read the complaint here.

Read the legal memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council here. 

Read Kaul’s letter here.