Wisconsin Elections Chief Meagan Wolfe Faces Uphill Battle for Reappointment

Wisconsin Elections Chief Meagan Wolfe Faces Uphill Battle for Reappointment
Wisconsin's top election official, Meagan Wolfe, speaks during a virtual press conference on Nov. 4, 2020. (Wisconsin State Handout via Reuters)
Steven Kovac

Embattled Election Administrator Meagan Wolfe is up for reappointment by the six-member bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).

But her chances of getting her second four-year term look increasingly bleak, according to some GOP lawmakers.

Serving in state government since 2011, Wolfe was unanimously approved as the state's highest ranking election-officer by the Wisconsin State Senate in 2019. Her term expires on June 30, 2023.

In recent years she was involved with the creation of the state's online voter registration system and election cyber security enhancement and is credited with overseeing the distribution of grant funds to municipalities from 2019 through 2020.

Wolfe received national recognition for serving as chairperson of the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC).

A major critic of Wolfe's performance as WEC administrator is election integrity firebrand Janel Brandtjen.

 Wisconsin State Assemblywoman Janel Brandtjen. (Photo courtesy of Janel Brandtjen)
Wisconsin State Assemblywoman Janel Brandtjen. (Photo courtesy of Janel Brandtjen)

State Rep. Brandtjen (R), told The Epoch Times that Wolfe’s tenure had been marked by missteps, failures, abuse of authority, and outright flouting of the state’s election laws.

“If Meagan Wolfe is reappointed by the members of WEC, I do not believe that the state senate will confirm her this time,” said Brandtjen.

Republicans control the 33-seat upper chamber 22 to 11.

A Look at the Record

To back up her criticism of Wolfe, Brandtjen cited a study published in December 2021 by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) that examined WEC’s conducting of the 2020 presidential election.

WILL is a non-profit, public-interest law firm based in Milwaukee. The institute specializes in individual liberty cases, as well as cases involving education reform and election integrity.

The study found that with Wolfe at the helm, WEC oversaw the casting of “a significant number of ballots” that did not meet “statutory requirements or statutory intent.”

“As recently confirmed by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the widespread adoption of absentee ballot drop boxes, encouraged by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, runs afoul of state law… (and) the ad hoc adoption of absentee ballot drop boxes without established rules, parameters, or security presents an election vulnerability…,” the study said.

On Wolfe’s watch, in the pandemic year of 2020, over 265,979 Wisconsin voters were allowed to claim that they were “indefinitely confined” in their homes and needed absentee ballots which enabled them to vote without photo ID.

More than 54,000 of those ballots were cast by individuals who “have never shown a voter ID in any election,’ the study reported.

Only 66.,611 people voted under indefinitely confined status in the 2016 presidential election.

State Laws Ignored

Under Wolfe, the Wisconsin Elections Commission “unlawfully suspended the use of Special Voting Deputies for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in 2020 –shrugging off standards in state law for the distribution and collection of absentee ballots in those settings,” according to the study.

This and other findings by WILL were confirmed by the investigation of Special Counsel and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

A poll of 2,000 supposed absentee voters conducted by WILL discovered that “a surprisingly high percentage” of them said they did not cast an absentee ballot, yet they are recorded as having voted absentee.

In 2020, WEC allowed the financial assistance of the Zuckerberg grant program that ostensibly was designed to ensure that municipalities had a healthy and safe general election.

According to an analysis by WILL, that grant assistance had the effect of increasing Democrat voter turnout by 8,000 votes statewide.

“Private funding disproportionately benefitted Democrats…No statistically significant effect was found for Trump,” the report said.

Federal and State Laws Flouted

The study also found that though state and federal law requires Wisconsin to maintain accurate voter rolls, under Wolfe’s leadership, WEC and local clerks “refused to take the required steps to remove outdated and inaccurate voter registrations.”
WILL investigators found that 23,361 Wisconsin voters cast ballots despite discrepancies in their voter registration records, in which their names, addresses, and birthdates failed to match the Deptartment of Motor Vehicles files.

Unequal Treatment?

The study discovered that under WEC’s oversight, local election practices regarding the potentially illegal “curing” of mistakes on cast absentee ballots were not uniform.

The lack of uniformity between localities in the fixing and rejecting of cast ballots raises questions of “fair and equal treatment,” the report said.

The WILL study said, “State law provides no legal authority for local election officials to fix, or ‘cure’ defects, mistakes, or missing information on absentee ballots.

“But the Wisconsin Elections Commission said they could—resulting in some municipalities curing ballots while others did not.

“As a result of WEC’s lawless advice to local officials, no standard practices were employed to cure ballots,” the report stated.

 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)
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)

‘Just Push Them Through’

According to the study, “Absentee ballot rejection rates were substantially lower in 2020 than in previous presidential elections…Either voters improved their capacity to avoid mistakes, or, more likely, election officials deliberately made efforts to ensure ballots were not rejected.”

Will estimates that if absentee ballot rejection rates in 2020 were similar to those in 2016, Joe Biden’s 20,600 vote victory margin over Donald Trump would have narrowed by 6,000 votes.

In the summary of their study, Will investigators conclude, “Widespread abandonment of proper procedures raises questions regarding the fairness of the process.

“It is almost certain that in Wisconsin’s 2020 election, the number of votes that did not comply with existing legal requirements exceeded Joe Biden’s margin of victory.”

Vulnerability of Mail-in Ballots Not Addressed

In a June 14 phone interview with The Epoch Times, Brandtjen described how the mail-in ballot application process continues to be so lax under Wolfe that citizen activists were able to demonstrate the vulnerability by ordering multiple absentee ballots for other people, including state officials, and they were delivered.

One activist who exposed the vulnerability is now facing criminal prosecution for his actions.

“I hope the people of Wisconsin remember that and the things exposed by the WILL study, the Legislative Audit Bureau, and the Gableman report," said Brandtjen.

Wolfe Speaks Out in a Letter

On June 14, Wolfe put out an informational memorandum on WEC letterhead to the state’s nearly 2,000 municipal and county clerks and some media outlets expressing uncertainty about her being reappointed to a second term.

Wolfe wrote: “It’s clear that enough legislators have fallen prey to false information about my work and the work of this agency that my role is at risk...

“False claims about election administration in the state of Wisconsin have proliferated since 2020. These claims are inaccurate and predicated on the false premise that the WEC administrator can make decisions unilaterally. This is simply not true. I do not have a vote on Commission matters…My job is to implement the decisions of the six-member bipartisan commission.

“Contrary to what a vocal minority may claim, my tenure at the WEC has been marked by successfully run elections during some of the most difficult circumstances in our state and nation’s history,” she said.

No Substitute for Experience

In light of the upcoming 2024 spring primary and November presidential election, Wolfe stressed the state’s need for a seasoned election administrator.

“There is no substitute for my decade-plus experience in helping run Wisconsin elections at the state level…If I am not selected for this role, Wisconsin would have a less experienced administrator at the helm,” wrote Wolfe.

Wolfe said that should she not be reappointed by WEC, she would support a new person that the commission decides upon in an open meeting.

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]