MADISON, Wis. (CN) - A GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate elections committee voted on Monday not to give the embattled administrator of the state elections commission another term, setting up a potential court battle over the appointment of an agency official who became a target of false conspiracy theories over the 2020 presidential election.
In the 3-1 executive session vote by paper ballot, the Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection decided not to reappoint Meagan Wolfe as the administrator of the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.
About two weeks ago the committee held a public hearing on Wolfe's appointment to the nonpartisan post. It featured lawmakers, a former state supreme court justice, "election integrity" advocates and members of the public who blasted Wolfe for her supposed involvement in 2020 election conspiracy theories - some even calling for her to be prosecuted for crimes they claimed she committed as a public official.
The committee vote sends her appointment to the full Senate, which could take up the matter as soon as Thursday, according to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Senator Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat from Beloit who sits on the five-person committee, confirmed through a spokesperson the result of the vote Tuesday afternoon - with Spreitzer as the lone "yes" vote in favor of Wolfe.
Echoing the opinions of Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and the Wisconsin Legislative Council, Spreitzer said Wolfe's nomination is not properly before the Senate because a majority of the six-member WEC did not vote on her appointment and formally send it to the legislature.
The Democratic senator expressed his support for Wolfe, saying she "will continue her lawful service as the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, regardless of what Senate Republicans do to serve conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists."
Senator Jeff Smith, another Democrat on the committee, submitted a no-vote, acknowledging the viewpoint that Wolfe's nomination is not ready to be considered.
The WEC's three conservative members voted on June 27 to reappoint Wolfe and send her nomination to the senate for confirmation. The commission's three liberals, however, abstained, saying the commission could not vote on the matter due to a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision essentially saying the expiration of an appointed official's term does not automatically create a "vacancy" of that office to be filled.
Despite the commission's deadlock, GOP senators vowed to move forward with Wolfe's confirmation anyway, a process that took another step forward Tuesday and brings her appointment closer to being settled with a lawsuit, an outcome lawmakers and others have acknowledged as a likelihood.
Spreitzer's statement said that, since his Republican colleagues voted against Wolfe and passed her appointment along to the full senate, "[he] will be submitting a minority report to make clear that the Senate's decision to move this illegitimate process forward is not supported by the law," alluding to the potential for a legal showdown over Wolfe's appointment.
Senator Dan Knodl, a Republican from Germantown who chairs the committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.
Republican senators Dan Feyen of Fond du Lac and Romaine Quinn of Cameron voted alongside Knodl to fire Wolfe.
Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, posted on X, formerly Twitter, taking Republicans to task for their actions on Monday.
"Republicans are hell-bent on doing everything they can to interfere with our elections, including trying to abuse their power by improperly firing the state's elections commissioner, who they last approved with unanimous, bipartisan support. It's wrong. And it has to stop," Evers said.
The WEC appointed Wolfe its administrator - a role that requires her to convey and implement what the commission decides without voting on commission decisions - in 2018, and she was confirmed by the senate for a four-year term the following year.
Her term formally ended on July 1, but when her reappointment came up this summer, she stayed on, setting the table for a partisan fight over the state's top elections official ahead of the 2024 election - a contest in which Wisconsin, a perennial battleground state, is seen as a linchpin to victory.
Source: Courthouse News Service