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Wisconsin Senate committee to vote on Meagan Wolfe’s future at Wisconsin Elections Commission

State legal officials, including Attorney General Josh Kaul, say these Senate proceedings are illegitimate

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, left, is seen during a September 2018 meeting of the Elections Commission
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, left, is seen during a September 2018 meeting of the Elections Commission with then-Commissioner Dean Knudson. Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Watch

A state Senate committee will hold a vote about the future of Wisconsin’s top elections official on Monday, a controversial move that could be a step towards removing Meagan Wolfe from her post.

Wolfe, who has served as administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission since 2019, has been in a holdover position since her term expired on July 1. State legal officials, including Attorney General Josh Kaul say that, as long as she does not step down, she may remain in that role indefinitely.

Republicans in the Senate have nonetheless moved forward with standard confirmation proceedings. The committee vote scheduled for Monday would be a step toward full Senate vote.

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Republican Senator Dan Knodl, who chairs the elections committee, said in a statement that he’s fulfilling a constitutional obligation to take a vote on the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

“Senator Knodl is fulfilling his constitutional duties, made clear by Senate Resolution 3, by scheduling a vote on the reappointment of the Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator,” the statement reads.

Wolfe was not formally nominated to a second term, after the elections commission deadlocked on a vote over her future. Democrats on the commission at the time said they had no legal authority to vote on her future, citing a state Supreme Court decision from last summer.

In that case, the former conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Fred Prehn, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, could remain in his job at the Department of Natural Resources because he did not step down when his term expired.

The ruling suggests that, if an appointee does not step down, there is no vacancy to be filled.

In a letter to the state legislative council last month, Kaul, a Democrat, says that case applies to Wolfe. Therefore, he said, the Senate has no legitimate nomination to consider.

Kaul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Days after the elections commission deadlock, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, nonetheless moved forward Wolfe’s renomination in a surprise move that outraged Democrats.

He had previously told local Republican leaders that the Prehn decision meant ousting Wolfe was unlikely, according to emails obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Senate election committee held a public hearing on her nomination earlier this month.

At that hearing, Sen. Mark Spreitzer, a Beloit Democrat, cited Kaul’s letter and an August memo from Wisconsin’s Legislative Council in calling Senate proceedings on Wolfe’s nomination invalid.

“This committee cannot take up a nomination that has not been made,” he said. “This nomination is not properly before us.”

Spreitzer did not respond to WPR’s request for comment about whether he would participate in Monday’s vote.

In ordinary circumstances, a Senate committee vote would pave the way to confirmation proceedings in the full Senate. Under these extraordinary circumstances, court challenges are expected.

LeMahieu did not respond to WPR’s questions about whether he’ll schedule a full confirmation hearing.

Wolfe likely doesn’t have the votes to be reconfirmed in the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-thirds majority, and many have signaled that they will not support her for a second term.