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Republicans plan to appeal court order blocking their attempts to remove top election official

A Dane County judge ruled last month that Meagan Wolfe can stay in her position

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe Sept. 7, 2023. (Andy Manis/Wisconsin Watch)

Republican lawmakers are planning to appeal a ruling that blocked their efforts to oust Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.

In a Monday court filing, an attorney for Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Senate President Chris Kapenga said GOP leaders will ask a state appeals court to decide whether state law requires the Wisconsin Elections Commission to “appoint a new administrator regardless of whether a vacancy exists.”

Despite recounts, audits and investigations, Wolfe has become a focus of Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump, who has repeated false claims of extensive voter fraud in Wisconsin’s 2020 election. In response, Republican lawmakers have launched multiple failed attempts to remove Wolfe from office.

Trump lost Wisconsin to President Joe Biden by around 21,000 votes.

When the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s six board members deadlocked on Wolfe’s reappointment in June, Senate Republicans followed up with a vote to fire her in September.

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At the time, LeMahieu said voters have “lost confidence in our elections” under Wolfe’s watch and argued that because the commission’s three Republicans voted to reappoint Wolfe and the board’s three Democrats abstained “it was a unanimous vote” needed for the senate to act.

Immediately after the Senate vote, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court asking a judge to decide whether Wolfe was lawfully “holding over” despite her term expiring and whether the Senate had any power to fire her.

During that case, LeMahieu, R-Oostburg; Vos, R-Rochester; and Kapenga, R-Delafield, admitted they didn’t have that power and their September vote “was symbolic and meant to signal disapproval of Administrator Wolfe’s performance.”

Last month, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ann Peacock sided with Wolfe, ruling that a 2022 Wisconsin Supreme Court involving appointees also applied to Wolfe’s situation. In that case, the court’s previous conservative majority allowed former Natural Resources Board Chair Fred Prehn to continue serving more than a year after his term ended.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, listens to Rep. John Nygren speak to the press Dec. 4, 2018 ahead of the Assembly gathering for an extraordinary lame duck session of the Legislature held Dec. 4 and 5, 2018, at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Amid GOP appeal, angry conservatives continue push to recall Vos

The move to appeal the Wolfe decision comes as some conservatives are attempting to recall Vos, claiming he is standing in the way of efforts to impeach the state’s top elections official.

It’s not Vos’ first brush with those activists. In 2020, Vos launched a months-long probe of the 2020 election, hiring former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to conduct the review. Vos eventually ended the investigation, calling Gableman “an embarrassment.”

Since then, Gableman, and a small group of Republican lawmakers have turned on Vos and are pushing an effort to recall him, claiming he is standing in the way of efforts to impeach Wolfe.

At the forefront of the impeachment push is Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee, who introduced an impeachment resolution in September. Vos didn’t assign it to an Assembly Committee until after television ads threatening to remove him from office began airing in southeastern Wisconsin. 

The ad campaign was spearheaded by a group of conservative activists including Adam Steen, who narrowly lost a 2022 primary race to Vos by less than 300 votes, and Racine political activist Harry Wait, who faced criminal charges last year for fraudulently obtaining absentee ballots.

Last week, the bipartisan Wisconsin Ethics Commission recommended felony charges against Brandtjen, three county GOP arms and Trump’s Save America campaign committee, accusing them of illegally funneling campaign donations to Steen’s campaign two years ago.