Senate vote to fire state's election officer Meagan Wolfe triggers lawsuit
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Senate voted along party lines to fire the state's top election officials, a move that triggered a lawsuit by Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Within hours of the Senate voting to deny Meagan Wolfe a second term as administration of the state Elections Commission, Kaul filed a legal challenge arguing the step was a "blatantly disregard to state law."
The lawsuit has been filed “declaring that WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe is lawfully holding” her position and the Senate has “no power to reject her.” https://t.co/xXc5MyFT1tpic.twitter.com/apBLOJS1nA— Emilee Fannon (@Emilee_Fannon) September 14, 2023
The suit filed against Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Senate President Chris Kapenga claims Republicans had no authority to hold a vote to fire Wolfe.
"We have a Senate that is acting outside the scope of the law," Kaul said. "When we're talking about attacks on our democracy, this is an extreme act."
Kaul was adamant that Wolfe can continue to serve as administrator while the lawsuit plays out. Wolfe also said she plans to stay in her role until the court tells her otherwise.
The dispute over Wofle leading the agency steams from false claims about the 2020 election. She been a target of attacks by election deniers and Republicans who say too many people have lost faith in her ability to lead the agency. They've taken issue with the guidance the commission issued during the pandemic, such as installing absentee ballot drop boxes and allowing clerks to cure absentee ballots.
Some of those decisions have been deemed illegal by the courts and others are being disputed again in newly filed lawsuits.
"A key component of fair and honest election is that the voters have confidence in our elections and if they don't have confidence in our elections, we are disenfranchising voters," LeMahieu said on the Senate floor.
For some Republicans, Thursday's vote was a difficult choice. That includes Sen. Rober Cowles (R-Green Bay) who agreed with the findings of an audit of the 2020 election that found no widespread voter fraud but also included over a dozen recommendation for WEC to consider.
"Hopefully there's someone out there that can do a better job," Cowles said. "The audit was critical in a number of ways. You have to find a leader that can break through that, and it might be partially [Wolfe's fault] and it might be partially the members on the commission."
Republicans and Democrats have disputed whether the vote is legitimate ever since the Senate voted in June to begin confirmation hearings to reappoint Wolfe to the position even though the commissioners on the bipartisan commission never reached the vote threshold, four votes, required under state law to nominate her to another term.
LeMahieu move forward with Wolfe's reappointment regardless.
Back in June, the commission deadlocked on reappointing Wolfe to another four years. Based on a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Democrats believe the action by the commission means Wolfe can remain in her post until a vacancy or a replacement is found, but LeMahieu disagrees.