Courts Likely to Decide Fate of Embattled Wisconsin Election Chief

Democrats in Wisconsin are determined to keep the state's controversial election commission director Meagan Wolfe on the job through the 2024 presidential election.
Courts Likely to Decide Fate of Embattled Wisconsin Election Chief
Residents drop mail-in ballots in a ballot box outside of the Tippecanoe branch library in Milwaukee, Wis., on Oct. 20, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Steven Kovac

The twists and turns continued in the saga of the rise and potential fall of Wisconsin Election Commission Director Meagan Wolfe.

The latest chapter was a four-hour-long public hearing conducted by the state Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections, and Consumer Protection held on Aug. 29.

The proceeding was the prelude to the full Senate convening on Sept. 11 to act on retaining or replacing Ms. Wolfe.

Election integrity firebrand and State Assemblywoman Janelle Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who was the first witness to speak at the hearing, told The Epoch Times before the meeting, “There is no appetite among the Republican supermajority in the Senate to keep her in the job.

“By law, as of Aug. 15, she should have been gone.”

According to state statute, that’s the day by which the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) is required to appoint a director and send their choice on for the advice and consent of the state senate.

A failure to do so within the requisite 45 days gives a joint committee of the legislature the duty to appoint an interim director for one year.

WEC met just prior to June 30—the expiration date of Wolfe’s original four-year term—but could not agree on her reappointment.

 Wisconsin's top election official, Meagan Wolfe, speaks during a virtual press conference on Nov. 4, 2020. (Wisconsin State Handout via Reuters)
Wisconsin's top election official, Meagan Wolfe, speaks during a virtual press conference on Nov. 4, 2020. (Wisconsin State Handout via Reuters)

The body, composed by law of three Republicans and three Democrats, could only muster three votes to move her appointment on to the Senate for confirmation. Four votes were required.

Going into that WEC meeting all six members had expressed that Ms. Wolfe had done a good job.

When it came time to vote, Ms. Wolfe received the votes of all three Republican commissioners, but the three Democrats abstained.

From Golden Girl to Goat

At the Aug. 29 hearing, Republican committee member Senator Romaine Quinn asked why the Democrats did not vote to move Ms. Wolfe’s appointment forward.

“Because the Democrats on the Wisconsin Election Commission know and said that she could not survive a Senate confirmation vote,” answered witness Justice Michael Gableman, a former 10-year veteran of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and a former election integrity special investigator for the state assembly.

Witness Cheryl Lynch agreed, telling the committee: “The Democrat members of WEC have acted to protect Wolfe from coming before the Senate for confirmation.”

Ms. Lynch added that in one short term, Ms. Wolfe has “undermined the fairness of Wisconsin elections,” and has gone from a unanimous appointment by WEC and a unanimous confirmation vote by the Senate in 2019 to the point where she “has ceased to be respected.”

Ms. Wolfe was invited but chose not to attend the hearing.

She did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times by press time.

Strategy Explained

A Democrat member of the committee, Senator Mark Spreitzer, shed light on the thinking behind the parliamentary maneuver of the WEC Democrats.

Mr. Spreitzer asserted that since Ms. Wolfe failed to receive the four votes needed for reappointment “no nomination has been made” and therefore the subject should not be taken up by the committee.

His point of order was overruled by committee chairman Daniel Knodl (R-Germantown) who explained that the committee was acting on a process laid out by a Senate resolution and that the hearing would proceed.

“We will not abdicate the Senate’s authority,” Mr. Knodl said.

Acknowledging that the Republican majority disagreed with his assertion, Mr. Spreitzer said he feared the matter would have to be resolved through a lawsuit.

“I am confident the courts will side with Meagan Wolfe,” he said to the committee.

Reminding the meeting that there were four elections scheduled in 2024, Mr. Spreitzer said he thought it advantageous that the experienced Ms. Wolfe continue as WEC’s director.

A Matter of Semantics

Mr. Spreitzer also stated that in Wisconsin the “expiration of a term is not the same as the creation of a vacancy. The expiration of a defined term no longer creates a vacancy.”

No vacancy means no nomination and no nomination means there is nobody for the Senate to confirm or not confirm, according to Mr. Spreitzer.

He cited a recent State Supreme Court decision involving a Republican Dept. of Natural Resources appointee as precedent.
The definition of the word "vacancy" looms large in the Wolfe appointment because the governing statute reads in pertinent part: "If a vacancy occurs in the administrator position, the commission shall appoint a new administrator, and submit the appointment for senate confirmation, no later than 45 days after the date of the vacancy."

However, the same section of the same statute also states that the administrator "shall serve for a four-year term expiring July 1 of the odd-numbered year."

In the days prior to the hearing, Wisconsin’s Democrat Attorney General Josh Kaul weighed in with a letter stating that, in his opinion, there was no legal basis for the Senate to act in regard to Wolfe’s continuing tenure.

Mr. Spreitzer’s opinion was further bolstered by the comments of Ann Jacobs, a Democrat member of WEC and an attorney, who appeared before the committee in her personal capacity and not her official capacity.

Ms. Jacobs told the committee that in the six volumes of Wisconsin statutes, “vacancy has a definition with 14 subparts.”

She urged the committee to “focus on the statutes as written,” and agreed with Mr. Spreitzer that there is “not a nomination before this committee.”

“Administrator Wolfe has not died. There is no vote to remove her,” Ms. Jacobs said.

According to the WEC Democrats' view, because those two things have not occurred, and Ms. Wolfe has not resigned, she may continue in office indefinitely.

“It was certainly not the original intent of the legislature for a WEC director to sit in office in perpetuity,” said Mr. Quinn.

After listening to the remarks of Director Joe Chrisman of the Legislative Audit Bureau who summarized for the committee the thirty problems his agency found with the WEC’s administration of the 2020 election—most of which, he said, remain unaddressed—Ms. Jacobs offered her own assessment.

Ms. Jacobs described the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin as “outstanding, accurate, and well-run.”

She said those who don’t believe it “may be defined as the crazies.”

Supporters and Detractors

Ms. Wolfe’s performance was lauded by several county and municipal election officials.

Clerk Lisa Tollefson of Rock County said Ms. Wolfe “provides strong guidance and support” and has “huge respect across the country.”

She also said that she has seen a record-high turnover among local election officials since 2020 and that we are in for “a world of crazy” in 2024.

Ms. Tollefson commented that going into next year without Ms. Wolfe at the helm would be hard.

Former municipal clerk Sam Liebert called himself “a victim of clerk burnout.”

He said Ms. Wolfe was “fair and supportive.”

 Wisconsin Assemblywoman Janel Brandtjen. (Courtesy of Janel Brandtjen)
Wisconsin Assemblywoman Janel Brandtjen. (Courtesy of Janel Brandtjen)

Election integrity activist Harry Waite, who is being prosecuted for exposing the ease with which anybody could apply online for an absentee ballot in Wisconsin and have it sent anywhere and to anyone, alleged Ms. Wolfe and WEC had withheld evidence from his defense attorney.

Election Watch president Peter Bernegger alleged to the committee that under Ms. Wolfe’s leadership, WEC has illegally ignored reasonable public records requests and that she is guilty of numerous instances of dereliction of duty involving contracts that he enumerated.

A bevy of witnesses called the committee’s attention to WEC, under Wolfe’s leadership, pushing the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in defiance of Wisconsin law; permitting the lax handling of absentee ballot envelopes; stopping Special Deputies from managing the voting of nursing home residents, as required by law, and the overseeing of a voter roll of 7.5 million names when the state has only 4.5 million eligible voters.

These were just a few of the allegations levied against Ms. Wolfe and WEC at the hearing by irate citizens.

One witness called for Ms. Wolfe to be arrested, while several others urged the legislature to impeach her. Several speakers called for the dissolving of WEC.

The Wisconsin Election Commission was founded on June 30, 2016. It was created by the state legislature with the intent of taking partisan politics out of election administration.

Steven Kovac reports for The Epoch Times from Michigan. He is a general news reporter who has covered topics related to rising consumer prices to election security issues. He can be reached at [email protected]