2020 Election Fallout: Wisconsin Chief Election Official Facing Imminent Ouster

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Meagan Wolfe, the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, speaks during a virtual press conference on Nov. 4, 2020. (Wisconsin Elections Commission via Reuters)

Wisconsin’s chief election official Meagan Wolfe is engulfed in a battle between Democrats and Republicans to determine the state’s next election administrator

Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC), has suffered another setback in her struggle to hang on to her office as the chief election official.

On Sept. 11, the five-member state Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections, and Consumer Protection voted 3-1-1 to recommend that the full Senate hand Ms. Wolfe her walking papers over allegations of partisan behavior within her role.

Voting against Ms. Wolfe’s nomination were Republican Sens. Dan Knodl, Dan Feyen, and Romaine Quinn. Sen. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat, was the lone committee member to vote to reappoint Ms. Wolfe to a second four-year term. Democrat Sen. Jeff Smith abstained.

A Long Listening Session

The committee made its decision after conducting a four-hour-long public hearing on Aug. 29, in which a scathing critique of WEC’s introduction of new policies and practices—especially its management of the 2020 election—was presented by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

Following the audit report, a parade of Wisconsinites from all over the state took the witness chair to speak against Ms. Wolfe continuing on as WEC administrator.

Most of her detractors told the hearing that, based on what they consider her mishandling of the 2020 election, ordinary citizens have lost trust in Ms. Wolfe’s ability to fairly administer the upcoming 2024 presidential election.

In 2020, Ms. Wolfe had a hand in making and implementing decisions that many Republicans worry may have helped Joe Biden eke out a 0.63 percent victory over then-President Donald Trump—a margin of just 20,682 votes out of the 3.3 million cast.

 

 

A Catalog of Missteps

Some of the controversial actions Ms. Wolfe presided over include the installation of mail-in ballot drop boxes—later declared illegal by the Wisconsin Supreme Court; the relaxing of signature verification standards and voter identification requirements; expanding the definition of “indefinitely confined” absentee voters to include thousands of ineligible people; and allowing elderly nursing home residents to receive mail-in ballots without them being delivered and returned by specially designated election officers, as required by Wisconsin law.

Those speaking at the hearing in favor of Ms. Wolfe commended her for her competence, experience, and responsiveness to the needs of local election officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several supporters said it would be difficult for localities to manage the upcoming 2024 presidential election without Ms. Wolfe’s expertise.

Concerning the WEC’s missteps and legal problems, her supporters contended that she was merely carrying out the wishes of her superiors.

By law, WEC is a body composed of three Republicans and three Democrats. It was created by the state legislature in 2016.

In recent letters and memos released to the public in which Ms. Wolfe defended herself, she asserted the same argument about her subordinate role. But the statute establishing the WEC states in pertinent part: “The elections commission shall be under the direction and supervision of an administrator …”

A Political Stratagem?

Just before Ms. Wolfe’s term was set to expire at midnight on June 30, the WEC met for the purpose of reappointing her to another term.

By statute, four votes are needed to move her appointment forward for confirmation by the Wisconsin State Senate. Ms. Wolfe only mustered three—surprisingly, they were all from the Republican members.

Aware that Ms. Wolfe had worn out her welcome among the Republican supermajority in the Senate and that she was headed there for a defeat, the three WEC Democrat members decided to abstain.

They explained that while they supported Ms. Wolfe, the parliamentary tactic of abstaining might enable them to save her from almost certain rejection by the Senate.

In May 2019, Ms. Wolfe was unanimously confirmed by that same body.

WEC’s three Democrat members are now trying to keep the Republican legislative majority from ousting Ms. Wolfe by contending that because she failed to get four votes from WEC, she has not been formally nominated and therefore, there is no vacancy and no valid nomination for the Senate to advise and consent on.

Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee election commission, collects the count from absentee ballots from a voting machine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Nov. 4, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

GOP Resolve

The parliamentary move by unelected WEC commissioners to stymie the Senate has led some Republican lawmakers to assert that such an action thwarts the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives.

Speaking for the GOP majority, Mr. Knodl, the committee’s chairman stated, “We will not abdicate the Senate’s authority.”

The day after the WEC’s Democrat members abstained, the Senate passed a resolution on a party-line vote to proceed with the advice and consent process.

If the full Senate rejects Ms. Wolfe, Wisconsin Democrats led by Mr. Spreitzer have vowed to challenge the action in court.

Mr. Spreitzer said he is confident the Democrat’s position can prevail.

At the Aug. 29 hearing, he told the committee that Ms. Wolfe is lawfully continuing in her position even though her term expired at midnight on June 30. To support his contention, he cited a legal loophole in Wisconsin law by which “the expiration of a term is not the same as the creation of a vacancy. The expiration of a defined term no longer creates a vacancy.”

If no vacancy has occurred in Ms. Wolfe’s post, there is no need for her reappointment, and therefore, there is nothing for the Senate to confirm, according to the Democrats’ reasoning.

Mr. Quinn stated, “It was certainly not the original intent of the legislature for a WEC director to sit in office in perpetuity.”

Other than her written statements, Ms. Wolfe has thus far kept a low profile during the Senate’s deliberation. She did not attend the Aug. 29 hearing and has not responded to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

In a late breaking development, on Sept. 13, her office announced that Ms. Wolfe is preparing to come out swinging with a full media blitz if she is not confirmed.

The full Wisconsin State Senate may vote as early as Sept. 14.

 

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