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Wisconsin’s embattled elections leader is legally holding the position, judge rules

Senate Republicans voted in September to fire Meagan Wolfe

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 Wisconsin judge ruled Friday that the state’s top elections official is legally holding her position and that the commission that appoints her is under no obligation to name a new leader, handing yet another defeat to Republicans who have tried to oust her.

The bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked in June on a vote to reappoint Meagan Wolfe as the administrator of elections in the presidential battleground state. The three Republican commissioners voted in favor, but the three Democrats abstained to block the nomination from going before the state Senate because that would have then allowed Republicans there to fire her. Actions by the commission require a four-vote majority.

Wolfe has been the subject of conspiracy theories and targeted by threats from election skeptics who falsely claim she was part of a plot to rig the 2020 vote in favor of President Joe Biden. Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, and his win has withstood two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, and multiple state and federal lawsuits.

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The fight over who will run the state’s elections agency, known as the WEC, has caused instability ahead of this year’s presidential race for Wisconsin’s more than 1,800 local clerks, who actually run elections.

“I agree with WEC that the public expects stability in its elections system and this injunction will provide stability to protect against any further legally unsupported removal attempts,” Dane County Circuit Judge Ann Peacock wrote in her order Friday saying that Wolfe holds her position legally.

Senate Republicans voted in September to fire Wolfe, despite objections from Democrats and the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys, who said the Senate didn’t have the authority to vote at that time because Wolfe was a holdover in her position and had not been reappointed.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued to challenge that vote, and in court filings, Republican legislative leaders changed course and claimed their vote to fire Wolfe was merely “symbolic” and had no legal effect. They also asked the judge to order the elections commission to appoint an administrator for the Senate to vote on.

Peacock, in her ruling Friday, said Wolfe is legally serving as administrator of the elections commission as a holdover given that the commission deadlocked on whether to reappoint her. The Senate’s vote to remove her had no legal effect, Peacock ruled for the second time, and the commission has no duty to appoint a new leader while Wolfe is serving as a holdover.

The judge also ruled that a legislative leadership committee has no power to appoint an interim administrator while Wolfe is serving. She also ordered Republican legislative leaders not to take any action contrary to her ruling.

Kaul said the ruling “is a resounding victory for fair and impartial election administration and the rule of law.”

Wolfe did not respond to a message seeking comment. Republican legislative leaders — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu — also didn’t return messages.