Elections commission deadlocked on reappointing Wisconsin's top election official

NOW: Elections commission deadlocked on reappointing Wisconsin’s top election official

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Wisconsin Elections Commission was unable to reach an agreement on reappointing the state's top election official, a move that could ignite a legal challenge in the battleground state ahead of a contentious presidential election.

During Tuesday's meeting, all six commissioners praised administrator Meagan Wolfe and defended her role overseeing an agency that's been the center of attacks since the fallout of the 2020 election. Five commissioners also said Wolfe should keep her job, but when it came time to vote on appointing her to another four-year term, the commission was deadlocked.

Democratic commissioners abstained from voting, arguing a recent state Supreme Court ruling allows an appointee to continue serving in their position until a replacement or vacancy occurs. Meanwhile, Republicans voted in favor of reappointing Wolfe, whose term is set to expire July 1.

Republican commission chairman Don Millis argued not taking a vote could lead to even more security from "grifters" who believe the 2020 election was rigged based on policies enacted by the commission during the pandemic.

"It's more than a bad look, it's going to create problems for us and for election officials across the state," Millis said.

The move appeared to create more questions than answers on Wolfe's future, but Millis predicted it would lead to a court battle.

Democratic commissioner Mark Thomsen said renominating Wolfe would "throw her to the wolves," referencing the state Senate who would then have to confirm her appointment. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) has cast doubts on Wolfe's future and indicated some Republicans would vote to reject her as administrator.

"What we have fundamental agreement on is that Meagan Wolfe is the best person to run our agency, and that's why I'm abstaining because I will take my shots with the court rather than at the Senate," Thomsen said.

After the vote, Wolfe said the commission's inaction will leave the agency in "unprecedented territory" despite believing she can remain in her role even after her term expires Saturday. Wolfe also predicted the move could undermine the commission as they prepare for the 2024 presidential election.

"We are out of time, and if I'm being frank, the commission's vote should have happened months ago so we could be dealing with these questions and have a clearer path forward," Wolfe said.

The vote comes days after Wolfe wrote a letter to lawmakers defending her tenure while disputing false claims about the electoral process that surfaced after former President Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden.

Republicans have been highly critical of Wolfe and the commission over pandemic-era procedures they put in place during the 2020 election, such as sending absentee ballot applications to every voter, installing ballot drop boxes and banning election officials from entering nursing homes to help residents vote during the 2020 presidential election.

Those policies were put in place by the commission. As administrator, Wolfe does not have a vote in these matters, but she does offer guidance to the state's 1,850 municipal clerks.

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