Wisconsin Senate fires top elections official amid legal dispute

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The Wisconsin Senate voted along party lines to remove the state’s top elections administrator, Meagan Wolfe, on Thursday. The move sparked a legal challenge from the state attorney general, who argued that the Senate had no authority to fire Wolfe.

Wolfe’s role in the 2020 election

Wolfe, a nonpartisan official, has been the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission since 2018. She oversaw the 2020 presidential election in the battleground state, which was won by President Joe Biden by about 20,000 votes.

Wolfe faced criticism from some Republican lawmakers and former President Donald Trump, who claimed without evidence that there was widespread fraud and irregularities in the election. Wolfe defended the integrity and security of the election, and said that there was no evidence of any major problems or illegal votes.

Wolfe also resisted attempts by some Republican legislators to conduct an audit of the election results, saying that such an audit would be redundant and unnecessary. She pointed out that Wisconsin already had a post-election audit process that involved randomly selecting voting machines and hand-counting ballots.

Senate’s vote to fire Wolfe

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 22-11 to fire Wolfe, claiming that she had failed to follow the law and properly administer the election. The resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said that Wolfe had violated state statutes by issuing guidance to local clerks on how to handle absentee ballots, curing ballot defects, and maintaining voter rolls.

Wisconsin Senate fires top elections official

LeMahieu also accused Wolfe of ignoring a legislative subpoena to testify before a committee investigating the election. He said that the Senate had the power to reject Wolfe’s appointment and remove her from office.

However, Democrats and some legal experts disputed the Senate’s authority to fire Wolfe, saying that she was not appointed by the governor or confirmed by the Senate, but rather hired by the bipartisan Elections Commission. They argued that only the commission could fire Wolfe, and that the Senate’s vote was unconstitutional and invalid.

Legal challenge from the attorney general

Shortly after the Senate’s vote, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking an order declaring that Wolfe is lawfully holding over in her current position and that the Senate has no power to reject her.

Kaul called the Senate’s move “reckless” and said that it was based on “baseless attacks” on the election. He said that the Senate had ignored Wisconsin law and tried to interfere with the independent Elections Commission.

Kaul also warned that firing Wolfe could jeopardize federal funding for election security and create confusion and uncertainty for voters and local officials.

The lawsuit named LeMahieu, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Senate President Chris Kapenga as defendants. None of them responded to requests for comment on Thursday night.

Implications for future elections

The legal dispute over Wolfe’s fate could have significant implications for future elections in Wisconsin, one of the most closely contested states in presidential races. The state is expected to undergo a redistricting process next year, as well as hold a gubernatorial election in 2022 and a presidential primary in 2024.

Wolfe’s removal could also affect the ongoing review of the 2020 election results by a former state Supreme Court justice appointed by Assembly Speaker Vos. The review has been criticized by Democrats and some election officials as a partisan effort to undermine confidence in the election.

Wolfe has said that she would cooperate with any lawful and transparent review of the election, but also expressed concerns about some of the methods and requests made by the reviewer.

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