The future of free and fair elections in Wisconsin could hinge on the fate of Meagan Wolfe

July 10, 2023 5:00 am
Voting sign in school

The effort to oust Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, begun by 2020 election deniers, threatens to disrupt elections in 2024 | Photo by Isiah Holmes

Just prior to the long July 4th weekend, a number of dramatic events occurred regarding the future of fair and free elections in Wisconsin and specifically the immediate direction that the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), the state agency that oversees our state’s elections, will take leading into the critical and all-important 2024 presidential election year.

Back in 2015, the majority (then and now) Republican state Legislature, together with then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker, engineered the destruction of the effective and nationally heralded non-partisan Government Accountability Board (GAB). The GAB had been established with near unanimous bipartisan support in 2007 in the wake of the infamous Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2001-2002 which resulted in the criminal prosecution and removal from office of five of the top legislative leaders of both political parties. Republicans sought to replace the GAB with a more pliable and partisan entity that they hoped would provide them with greater partisan advantage in future elections.

The result was the establishment of the partisan-appointed WEC which was devised and set up with only Republican input and support — with no buy-in or even consultation with nonpartisan organizations like Common Cause Wisconsin and without any bipartisan legislative support. In 2019, Republican legislators unanimously voted to install the current WEC Administrator, Meagan Wolfe, replacing Mike Haas, who had held the position since 2015.

Meagan Wolfe
Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator

Wolfe has, by any objective measure, performed her role as administrator effectively, fairly and with a high level of professional and personal integrity and in a decidedly nonpartisan manner. And yet, because some far-right Republican conspiracy theorists and election deniers were, and remain, upset over the narrow but incontrovertible loss by Donald Trump in Wisconsin by some 20,500 votes to Joe Biden in 2020, Wolfe became and continues to be the scapegoat and target for their baseless and unhinged charges.

Every such allegation has been disproven and discredited in the courts, by numerous bipartisan, nonpartisan and even partisan GOP investigations and inquiries as well as by vote canvasses and recounts. In every case, Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin fairly and accurately.

And yet, the election deniers spurred on by Trump and the likes of “Pillow Man” Mike Lindell and discredited former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman (fired by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) last year after wasting more than $2 million in taxpayer funds vainly searching for election “fraud” in 2020) maintain an almost mystical hold over the Republican leadership in the Wisconsin Legislature. That includes its current leaders who know better — Vos, State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and others. All have continued to call for the removal of the capable Meagan Wolfe, who is completely without any culpability or blame for Trump losing Wisconsin. And all of them know that.

As administrator, Wolfe does not make any policy or operational decisions for the WEC. She simply executes the decisions and the will of the six appointed WEC commissioners. The administrator has no authority or vote on the commission to determine the actions taken by the WEC. Every decision made by the WEC is based on a majority vote of the commissioners, as was determined when the WEC was established. Wolfe serves at the pleasure of the WEC commissioners.

At the end of June, the three Republican-appointed WEC Commissioners, Chair Don Millis, Robert Spindell and Marge Bostelman, voted to reappoint Wolfe to another term as administrator when her current term expired on June 30. The three Democratic-appointed WEC Commissioners, Ann Jacobs, Mark Thomsen and Joe Czarnezki, all abstained from voting. The 3-0 vote was not sufficient (4 votes are required) to forward the Wolfe reappointment to the state Senate for confirmation where LeMahieu and Kapenga said she would be voted down and ousted.

Because of this unanticipated development, the matter is temporarily on hold. The courts may determine what happens next.

For the moment, at least, Wolfe will continue in her role as administrator. , As we draw ever closer to the beginning of the critical 2024 elections in Wisconsin it becomes more important than ever that the WEC have the firm, steady, able and experienced leadership at the helm that Wolfe has provided for the past nearly four years.

Wisconsin voters of all political views and stripes would be best served by Meagan Wolfe continuing in her current role. The integrity of the 2024 election and its adherence to the law and to fairness and democracy just might depend on it.


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Jay Heck
Jay Heck

Since 1996 Jay Heck has been the Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest non-partisan citizens political reform advocacy organization with more than 12,000 members and activists.