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Wisconsin Republicans Try to Force Vote on Reappointment of Nonpartisan Election Leader

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate, in a surprise move Wednesday night, proceeded with trying to force a vote on firing the state’s nonpartisan top elections official before the 2024 presidential election.

The Senate voted to move ahead at a later date with a public hearing, and ultimately a confirmation vote, on the reappointment of Meagan Wolfe for a second term overseeing elections in the presidential battleground state. Democrats walked out of the Senate chamber before the vote, objecting to bringing the unscheduled resolution to a vote at 9:30 p.m. on a day that was expected to focus on passage of the state budget.

The Republican move was an attempt to get around Democrats on the Wisconsin Elections Commission who a day earlier tried to block the Senate from ever getting a chance to vote on Wolfe’s confirmation. Democrats fear that the Senate will reject her confirmation, which is the same as firing her.

The three Democrats on the elections commission abstained from a vote Tuesday on reappointing Wolfe. The three Republican members voted in favor. 

The Senate ignored that deadlocked vote and said in the resolution it passed Wednesday night that it considered the 3-0 vote, with three abstaining, to be a sign of unanimous support for Wolfe. State law requires there to be four votes for Wolfe to be reappointed.

Republicans are simply ignoring the law in an attempt to get what they want, said Democratic elections commission member Ann Jacobs.

“Apparently Meagan Wolfe is living in the heads of the Senate delegation rent free and they live in mortal fear that she will continue to run free and fair elections in Wisconsin,” Jacobs said.

Another Democratic elections commissioner, Mark Thomsen, said that he puts his faith in the courts and “not this current Senate leadership” in sorting it out.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said it was the Senate that was following the law by proceeding with the reappointment question since Wolfe’s term ends on Friday. He accused Democrats on the elections commission of “diminishing faith in our elections” with their “antics.”

The question of Wolfe’s reappointment will now be the subject of a public hearing, a vote by a Senate committee and then ultimately a vote by the full Senate, LeMahieu said. Republicans have a 22-11 majority in the Senate.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard told reporters after Democrats walked out that they were “disgusted and frustrated” with the surprise move by Republicans.

Senate Republican leaders have said there isn’t enough support to confirm Wolfe for a second term overseeing elections in the presidential battleground state. Some Republicans have called for her to resign over how she ran the 2020 presidential election that President Joe Biden narrowly won.

Wisconsin is so narrowly divided, four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point. Wolfe has staunchly defended the decisions she’s made and fought back against false claims of election fraud, including those made by former President Donald Trump.

Biden’s win has withstood two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, numerous state and federal lawsuits, and a Republican-ordered reviewthat found no evidence of widespread fraud before the investigator was fired. The GOP-controlled Legislature has rejected attempts to decertify the results.

Wolfe has served as the state’s elections administrator since 2018 and has become one of the most respected elections leaders in the nation. Before defending her record in a letter to state lawmakers, she called on commissioners to vote for the option they believe offers the most stability for Wisconsin elections even if that’s not her.

If a commission appointee is rejected by the Senate, then commissioners would need to make a new appointment within 45 days or else a legislative committee controlled by Republicans could choose the next administrator.