WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Sept. 11, a five-person Wisconsin Senate committee voted 3-1, along party lines, to move the nomination of Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) administrator Meagan Wolfe to the Senate floor. The abstaining vote came from state Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Brunswick), who in a statement explained, “Today’s vote on Administrator Wolfe is not properly before the Senate or its committees. No appointment has been made; accordingly, no vote should be taken.”
This is the first step in the Republican-led Senate’s efforts to remove the state’s top elections official from her role.
Wolfe is a nonpartisan elections official at WEC, a bipartisan commission created in 2016 that serves as the state’s election regulatory agency. In 2019, Wolfe was originally nominated to the role by WEC and unanimously confirmed by the Wisconsin Senate, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R).
In 2020, Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) both lauded Wolfe’s election administering during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in a wild twist, Vos and the same Republicans who praised her confirmation have been leading the calls for Wolfe’s resignation, beginning in 2021.
In June, the state Senate, via resolution, declared that WEC had nominated Wolfe for reappointment, even though the commission failed to secure the necessary majority to do so. However, as allowed by state statute, Wolfe’s tenure automatically rolled over following the impasse at WEC.
The commission’s June stalemate was a result of 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 publicly pledged to vote against her confirmation.
Two weeks ago, the process began in earnest with a three-hour public hearing that served as a pulpit for Wisconsin election deniers, including former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and conservative activist Harry Wait. The hearing proceeded despite a legal memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council, which pointed out that the nomination lacks the requirements outlined in Wisconsin law. The Legislative Council provides nonpartisan legal analysis to state lawmakers.
In a late August letter to the council, the state’s attorney general, Josh Kaul (D), reiterated that the conservative legislators’ actions are contradictory to state statute.
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.
Like Smith, who abstained from the committee vote, Democrats contend that there is no lawful nomination up for consideration. Gov. Tony Evers (D) strongly condemned today’s move, “Republicans are hell-bent on doing everything they can to interfere with our elections, including trying to abuse their power by improperly firing the state’s elections commissioner, who they last approved with unanimous, bipartisan support.”
It is unclear when exactly the Senate will hold a vote to fire Wolfe, though it is expected to happen this month and could occur as soon as Thursday. But ultimately, the dispute over her nomination, or lack thereof, is expected to be settled in court.