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Eden Villalovas, Breaking News Reporter


NextImg:What’s driving the efforts from Wisconsin Republicans to remove top elections official

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are working to oust the state's nonpartisan top elections official, a move that could affect the battleground’s election rules going into the 2024 cycle.

The long-standing battle to remove Wisconsin Elections Administrator Meagan Wolfe hit a tipping point earlier this year when state Senate Republicans voted to fire her after the bipartisan elections commission, which includes three Democrats and three Republicans, deadlocked on a vote to reappoint her. Republicans voted along party lines 22-11, on Sept. 14, to remove Wolfe from her post, fueled by dissatisfaction over the 2020 election within the Wisconsin GOP.

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“It’s hard to believe that we’re still at a place where those now very well-analyzed and debunked claims about our system seem to still be driving decisions that are being made,” Wolfe said in a press conference held after the vote.

Wolfe has been a target for Republicans since former President Donald Trump's 2020 presidential election loss, in which he and his GOP allies tried to subvert the results in the state narrowly won by President Joe Biden.

She has led the commission since 2018 and has been accused of allowing “illegal drop boxes” that were widely used in the 2020 election as the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to in-person voting. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling recommended charges against the election commissioners in October 2021, claiming voting was carried out illegally in nursing homes. Republican state Senate President Chris Kapenga called for Wolfe and all six other commissioners' resignation in late 2021.

Under state law, municipal clerks are required to appoint Special Voting Deputies to nursing homes to assist residents with filling out ballots, and if two attempted visits are made, the deputies can mail absentee ballots to the residents instead. Due to the pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers (R-WI) limited nursing facility access to essential personnel only. Before absentee ballots were sent out for the 2020 primary, Wolfe recommended and the commission unanimously approved changes to the rule while pushing for mail-in ballots, and then voted to renew the rule change for the November 2020 general election.

Following the state Senate Republicans' vote to fire Wolfe, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit, siding with Democrats in saying there are no legal grounds for firing her and claiming Wolfe will remain in her role.

“The Senate’s action today where [they] claimed to have voted on an appointment that was not before them has no legal effect whatsoever,” Kaul said. “So, she remains the administrator. The court, I’m very confident, will confirm that, but once we get that confirmation hopefully that will end any uncertainty about this.”

Attorneys representing Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, and Kapenga, said in court filings the vote this fall “was symbolic and meant to signal disapproval of Administrator Wolfe’s performance.”

In an Oct. 27 order, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ann Peacock ruled that the state Senate vote had no legal effect and Wolfe could continue serving as head of the commission.

“Further official actions by Defendants to remove or attempt to remove Meagan Wolfe from the Administrator position, including appointing an interim Administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, do not have legal effect, subject to a final decision of this Court,” according to the order.

“Whether we like the result or not, a Dane County judge has issued a ruling saying we cannot remove Meagan Wolfe at least until the court issues a final ruling," Vos said in a Nov. 2 statement. "I think she should be replaced, but we now have to wait for the court process to work.”

Earlier in September, after the state Senate vote, five Republican Assembly members introduced a motion to impeach Wolfe. The legislators were led by GOP state Reps. Janel Brandtjen, Scott Allen, Elijah Behnke, Ty Bodden, and Chuck Wichgers.

A group of election deniers launched a six-figure ad campaign in Milwaukee-area TV and radio stations, threatening to oust Vos from office unless he allows the impeachment articles to move forward. Vos initially said he would not move to impeach Wolfe, urging lawmakers to appoint a replacement if the court rules there is a vacancy, but he referred the 15 articles of impeachment to the Assembly Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight at the start of November.

“The people running these ads are obviously from out-of-state since anyone living in Wisconsin would know of recent events,” Vos said, calling the ads "uninformed."

Kapenga said he requested the Assembly to consider the impeachment, adding the next steps in the impeachment process for Wolfe will be determined by Vos, as the Senate can’t take action until an Assembly hearing and vote are held.

"Speaker Vos has referred an Assembly impeachment resolution to an Assembly committee, which some believe was intended to end any further action. I hope that’s not the case,” Kapenga told the Washington Examiner. "Under the Senate’s authority to approve or reject non-political appointed positions like this, we rejected her reappointment. It’s critical for Wisconsin voters to know the upcoming 2024 elections will be overseen by an unbiased state official."

“The former administrator’s unwillingness to vacate her position leaves us with few options outside of impeachment or wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the court system," he added.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

In another effort to overhaul the state’s election playbook, Republicans on the Senate's elections committee voted Oct. 3 against confirming Democratic Commissioner Joseph Czarnezki, who Evers appointed to the Wisconsin Elections Commission in May. Czarnezki abstained from voting to reappoint Wolfe in June, and his nomination awaits a vote by the full state Senate.

For now, Wolfe will continue to serve as the state’s top election officer.