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Elections head responds to GOP concession that vote to fire her was ‘symbolic’

Lawyers for Republican lawmakers conceded in court that Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe is lawfully in her role

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

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe responded this weekend to a recent court filing in her lawsuit against Senate Republicans, calling the admission last week that she is lawfully in her role “a really big deal.”

Lawyers for the GOP said in a court filing earlier this month that the September vote Senate Republicans took to oust Wolfe was “symbolic.”

The filing was in response to a lawsuit filed immediately after the Senate vote by the Department of Justice, which argued the vote had no legal effect.

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Appearing on WISN-TV this weekend, Wolfe said she was still awaiting a final court decision, but the filing by attorneys representing top Republicans had provided “some very important clarity.”

“It’s really unfortunate that we had to sue in order for us to get these public admissions of what we knew to be true all along,” she added.

Wolfe has been operating in a holdover position since her term expired this summer. Republicans in the Senate argued publicly that meant her time in office should be over, taking a party-line vote on Sept. 14 against her confirmation.

Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit immediately after the Senate’s vote, arguing it had no merit because the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission had not nominated Wolfe to a second term.

Kaul’s argument is based on a state Supreme Court decision from last summer after Frederick Prehn, who had been appointed to the Department of Natural Resources by former Gov. Scott Walker, did not step down at the end of his term. The court in that case found that appointed officials who do not step down at the end of their terms may remain in place indefinitely.

In the interview, Wolfe said the application of that case to hers brought some heightened attention to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which has weathered years of criticism, including debunked conspiracy theories challenging the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“I think what we need right now is that clarity, that declaratory judgment from a court that tells us exactly where the law stands,” Wolfe said. “In a lot of ways, it’s unfortunate that we are the first agency that is facing this question post-the state Supreme Court decision in Prehn, where it really changed the way that appointments like mine are viewed.”

The DOJ lawsuit named as defendants representing Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg; Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield; and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

Vos said last week he’d asked to be removed from the lawsuit. He told reporters Tuesday he should not be involved in a case involving Senate proceedings.

In the recent court filing, lawyers for the GOP defendants said the vote was about sending a political message and conceded that Wolfe is “lawfully holding over as the administrator.”

“Defendants’ vote on September 14, 2023, was symbolic and meant to signal disapproval of Administrator Wolfe’s performance,” the filing says.