Wisconsin elections head won’t testify at reappointment hearing that state AG says is improper

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s top elections official said she will not testify next week at a Senate committee hearing on her reappointment, leaning on a letter from the state attorney general that says lawmakers have no authority to force a vote on firing her.

Republicans who control the Senate have vowed to oust Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe before the 2024 presidential election. They moved in June to begin the process of holding a vote on her reappointment despite not receiving a nomination from the bipartisan elections commission, which deadlocked along party lines on the matter.

Democratic elections commissioners hoped that by not nominating Wolfe, they could avoid a confirmation vote and keep her in office indefinitely under a recent state Supreme Court ruling that conservatives have used to maintain control of key policy boards.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul backed that argument in a letter sent to the Legislature’s attorneys on Wednesday. Kaul announced that he was representing the elections commission and said “there is no question” that state law allows Wolfe to stay in office as a holdover.

“I am writing to make clear that WEC has not appointed a new administrator, and there is no WEC administrator appointment before the Senate. … There is no plausible legal argument to the contrary,” he said.

Wolfe previously asked commissioners to decide whether she should testify at the hearing, saying she was in an “untenable position.” But commissioners declined to vote last week. After that meeting, the Senate elections committee scheduled a hearing for Aug. 29.

“Given the position taken by the Department of Justice, which is representing the WEC, I won’t attend Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing. As the state’s chief election official, engaging with lawmakers is a critical part of my role, and I look forward to discussing the good work of the Commission with them in the future,” Wolfe said in a statement shared with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Wolfe, whose job is nonpartisan, has been a target of conspiracy theorists who falsely claim she was part of a plan to rig the 2020 election to secure President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in Wisconsin. Republicans have called for her to resign over how she administered the 2020 election, even though multiple reports and reviews have upheld that the election was conducted fairly and the results were accurate.

Election observers have raised concerns that if Wolfe’s position remains disputed by lawmakers through the 2024 race, it could become the basis for challenges to election results and spawn more conspiracy theories about elections in the battleground state.

Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Harm on Twitter.

All contents © copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved