A Senate committee voted 3-1 against keeping Meagan Wolfe as the state’s top elections official with all three Republicans opposed, though it was unclear if the issue will move to the full chamber this week.
The office of Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, declined to say Monday whether Wolfe’s nomination will be included on Thursday’s calendar. That will be circulated tomorrow for a vote by Senate Org.
It’s widely expected that a lawsuit would be filed challenging any effort to fire Wolfe as Elections Commission administrator.
Dems contend Wolfe’s nomination is not properly before the Senate, and Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick, abstained from Monday’s vote via paper ballot.
“No appointment has been made; accordingly, no vote should be taken,” Smith said, adding, “I have full confidence in Administrator Wolfe and the work that she has done for the people of Wisconsin.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said he voted yes to indicate his support for Wolfe’s continued service. He continued to argue the issue isn’t properly before the Senate and “Republicans are on a path that will waste taxpayer money and create unnecessary controversy around our elections while attacking qualified, hard-working election officials.”
The Elections Commission voted 3-0 in June to nominate Wolfe for another four-year term. But the three Dem appointees abstained, arguing four votes were needed to appoint someone to the post. They also contend that means Wolfe can serve in the post indefinitely.
LeMahieu days later pushed a resolution on the Senate floor declaring Wolfe had been renominated. He told reporters he received legal advice that a 3-0 vote was sufficient to meet the statutory requirement for a majority vote of the commission. LeMahieu said he was told it only meant a majority of the commissioners voting, not the entire body.
Dem AG Josh Kaul and the nonpartisan Leg Counsel have since opined that position is incorrect, and Wolfe declined to appear at a public hearing before the Senate Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection Committee.
Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, cited Wolfe’s absence as part of the reason for his no vote.
“Elections are at the foundation of our democracy and it is important that every citizen can trust
that their vote will matter,” Feyen said. “This hearing made it clear to me that under Ms. Wolfe’s leadership, too many Wisconsinites don’t have this trust.”
Chair Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, and Sen. Romaine Quinn, R-Cameron, also voted no.
Quinn cited Wolfe’s absence from the Aug. 29 public hearing for his vote, and he knocked some members of the Elections Commission for seeking to “subvert the law by keeping Meagan Wolfe in the position indefinitely.”
Meanwhile, the committee voted 5-0 to back Ethics Commission Administrator Dan Carlton for another four-year term. It also unanimously supported SB 278, which would require the state to reimburse counties and municipalities for some costs related to putting on a special election for state office. Those costs include rent for polling places, paying poll workers, and printing and mailing absentee ballots and envelopes.
See more on SB 278 here.