WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Wisconsin Senate Elections Committee held a hearing on whether or not to reappoint the state’s top election official, Meagan Wolfe, a nonpartisan appointee who has led the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) since 2019. Wolfe was appointed by WEC and confirmed unanimously by the Republican-controlled Senate. The hearing marked the beginning of an allegedly unlawful reappointment process that may ultimately lead to Wolfe’s removal from the position to the detriment of voters.
Wolfe, as WEC’s chief administrator, was responsible for enforcing guidance from the commission during the 2020 election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The six-member commission, which serves as the state’s election regulatory agency, is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. With one of the most decentralized election systems in the country, WEC was created by the legislature in 2016 to administer Wisconsin’s elections and support the more than 1,800 municipal election clerks. All commission actions require a four-vote majority.
Since 2020, Wolfe and Republican legislators have sparred over the conservative lawmakers’ dedication to unfounded and debunked election conspiracies related to the results of the 2020 presidential election. In June, WEC commissioners were unable to reach the majority of votes necessary to begin the re-appointment process for Wolfe.
The commission’s stalemate was a result of WEC’s 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. Several Republican state senators have pledged to vote against her confirmation.
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Although Wisconsin law requires a successful majority vote from WEC to begin the process, the Senate, ignoring the law, went ahead and voted to begin the reappointment process, which kicked off with yesterday’s three-hour hearing.
The hearing turned into a pulpit for Wisconsin’s election deniers, including the infamous former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, conservative activist Harry Wait and former state Rep. Tim Ramthun (R). There were assertions that God called the testifiers to act in defense of Trump and demands for Wolfe’s arrest and the dissolution of WEC, echoing state Republicans like failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels.
It bears reminding that President Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin was confirmed by multiple recounts and one of the most recent, confirmed instances of voter fraud in the state was carried out by Wait, who fraudulently requested absentee ballots for Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason (D) last year. Wait, who has proudly admitted to the fraud, currently faces two felony counts of election fraud and two counts of unauthorized use of an individual’s personal identifying information. Last year, Wait was represented by Gableman in court.
The hearing also proceeded in the shadow of a letter sent from Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul (D) to the Legislature reiterating the lawmakers’ lack of standing:
I am writing to make clear that WEC has not appointed a new administrator, and there is no WEC administrator appointment before the Senate. This is not a close question under state law.
In the letter, Kaul also pointed to last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court decision by the then-conservative court ruling that “a holdover appointee may legally remain in office following the expiration of the appointee’s term, and the expiration of the term does not create a vacancy in office. Administrator Wolfe is a lawful holdover in her position.”
Wolfe did not attend the hearing, citing Kaul’s legal opinion and the lawmakers’ lack of authority to fire her. The chair of the Senate Elections Committee, Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), has not decided on whether the committee would hold a vote on Wolfe’s reappointment — a reappointment that has not occurred.
As Democratic state Sen. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit argued ahead of yesterday’s hearing, “This committee cannot take up a nomination that has not been made.”