The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate voted to fire the head of the state’s elections agency on Thursday, citing the need to restore citizens’ trust in the electoral process following Wisconsin’s messy 2020 election.
“Wisconsinites have expressed concerns with the administration of elections both here in Wisconsin and nationally,” Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, a Republican, said. “We need to rebuild faith in Wisconsin’s elections.”
The dispute over the confirmation of Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), began earlier this summer when the WEC “deadlocked and did not pass a motion to reappoint Wolfe to another four-year term.” While the commission’s three Republican members voted to re-nominate Wolfe, the body’s three Democrats abstained.
In Wisconsin, the WEC is responsible for overseeing the administration of elections and possesses responsibilities such as “helping ensure compliance with federal and state election laws.” As WEC administrator, Wolfe “serves as the agency’s chief executive … and carries out the Commission’s directives.”
Democrats’ abstention from the commission’s vote on re-nominating Wolfe appears to be a strategy based upon their interpretation of state law, which stipulates that the WEC administrator “shall be appointed by a majority of the members of the commission.” The WEC’s Democrat members seem to believe Wolfe’s re-nomination requires four “yea” votes before it can be considered by the Senate. Their choice to abstain from June’s vote was designed to allow her to serve as WEC administrator indefinitely.
LeMathieu, however, interpreted the WEC’s June vote as a unanimous 3-0 decision in favor of Wolfe’s re-nomination and ultimately scheduled the Senate vote to remove her from office. Following Thursday’s vote, Senate Republicans reportedly introduced a resolution “calling on the [WEC] to appoint an interim administrator to replace [Wolfe].”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, has since filed a lawsuit in response, arguing the Senate’s removal of Wolfe is invalid. Meanwhile, Wolfe has asserted she will remain in her position unless she’s removed via court order or commission vote.
While largely ignored by corporate media, numerous court rulings have determined that the WEC has violated several areas of state law regarding the conduction of Wisconsin elections. In July 2022, for instance, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found the WEC’s guidance authorizing the use of ballot drop boxes in the 2020 election violated state law. In its ruling, the high court specifically deemed the use of such devices illegal and prohibited their use in future elections.
More recently, a Wisconsin circuit court ruled the WEC illegally authorized a federal voter registration form used “to register new voters by mail.” Despite the WEC’s claims that it properly approved the form’s use, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Michael Maxwell determined the agency failed to provide evidence demonstrating “that the National Form was approved by a prior election agency at some point in the past.”
“WEC has failed in this most basic duty by allowing the National Form to be used in Wisconsin where WEC has never actually [prescribed] its use,” Maxwell wrote.