Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, seen in a Sept. 7, 2023, photo, continues to lead the elections agency amid Republican efforts to oust her. (Andy Manis for Wisconsin Watch)
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Republican Wisconsin lawmakers working to oust the state’s nonpartisan top elections official have admitted that a state Senate vote to fire her last month has no legal effect.

In a change of course from recent calls to impeach Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature said in court documents filed Friday that the vote on Sept. 14 to fire her “was symbolic and meant to signal disapproval of Administrator Wolfe’s performance.”

Wolfe has been lawfully holding over in office since her term expired on July 1, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, Senate President Chris Kapenga and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos admitted.

Wolfe declined to comment on Monday.

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“I’m glad they have finally acknowledged these realities, though it’s a shame it took the filing of litigation to get to this point,” Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who brought the lawsuit challenging the Senate’s vote, said in a statement Monday.

But Republicans aren’t done with trying to force a vote on firing Wolfe.

LeMahieu, Kapenga and Vos shifted their legal arguments to the three Democratic commissioners who abstained in June from voting on Wolfe’s reappointment in order to force a deadlock on the bipartisan, six-person elections commission. Without a four-vote majority to reappoint Wolfe, her nomination could not proceed to the Senate.

Republicans argue that state law requires the commission to make an appointment, and GOP leaders asked a judge to order the elections commission to do so immediately. The next hearing in the lawsuit is set for Oct. 30.

The Senate is also moving toward rejecting confirmation for one of the Democratic elections commissioners who abstained from voting on Wolfe’s reappointment. A confirmation vote on Commissioner Joseph Czarnezki was set for Tuesday.

The fight over who will oversee elections in the presidential battleground state has caused instability ahead of the 2024 presidential race for Wisconsin’s more than 1,800 local clerks who actually run elections. The issues Republicans have taken with Wolfe are centered around how she administered the 2020 presidential election, and many are based on lies spread by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

President Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, an outcome that has withstood two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a conservative law firm’s review, and multiple state and federal lawsuits.

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Harm Venhuizen is a state government reporter with The Associated Press in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily covering elections and voting rights. Prior to this, Venhuizen interned at Military Times. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he served as editor-in-chief of Chimes, the student paper. During his time at Chimes, he earned recognition for his investigative coverage of controversial personnel decisions, sexual assault and university employment policies against same-sex marriage. Venhuizen grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, and spent a summer working as a wildfire firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.