Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted on Thursday to remove the state’s elections chief, escalating a fight over who can determine the leader of a group that will supervise the elections next year in the battleground state.
Meagan Wolfe, who has served as the nonpartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator since she was appointed in 2018 and confirmed unanimously by the State Senate in 2019, is suing to keep her post and plans to continue in the role while the issue plays out in the courts. Democrats in the state have sharply criticized the decision, saying that it is not within the Legislature’s power to remove an elections administrator.
“It’s unfortunate that political pressures have forced a group of our lawmakers to embrace unfounded rumors about my leadership, my role in the commission and our system of elections,” Ms. Wolfe said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve said it multiple times, and I’ll say it again: Elections in Wisconsin are run with integrity. They are fair, and they are accurate.”
Ms. Wolfe, alongside the Wisconsin Elections Commission, subsequently sued three top Republicans in the State Legislature — Devin LeMahieu, Robin Vos and Chris Kapenga. She is being represented by the state’s attorney general, who was directed by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, to “provide immediate representation” for her after the vote.
“Wisconsin Republicans’ attempt to illegally fire Wisconsin’s elections administrator without cause today shows they are continuing to escalate efforts to sow distrust and disinformation about our elections,” Mr. Evers wrote in a statement.
Ms. Wolfe faced a battle over her reappointment this summer after years of being subjected to right-wing attacks, instigated by former President Donald J. Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. He lost Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, and there is no evidence that the state experienced widespread election fraud, as Mr. Trump and his allies have suggested despite numerous audits, recounts and lawsuits.
She received unanimous support from the state’s six election commissioners, three of whom were Republican appointees, who in June did not issue a nomination that would ordinarily prompt a vote in the Legislature. But Senate Republicans went forward with a vote regardless.
“Wisconsinites have expressed concerns with the administration of elections both here in Wisconsin and nationally,” said Mr. LeMahieu, the majority leader, according to The Associated Press. “We need to rebuild faith in Wisconsin’s elections.”
In June, Ms. Wolfe sent a letter to legislators, saying that “no election in Wisconsin history has been as scrutinized, reviewed, investigated and reinvestigated” as the 2020 election and that there were “no findings of wrongdoing or significant fraud.” She urged lawmakers to push back against falsehoods that had circulated about the election’s integrity.
But Republican senators voted to oust her nonetheless, in a 22-11 party-line vote that took place on the floor of the State Capitol.
With Ms. Wolfe choosing to stay in the position, it is anticipated that Republicans will challenge every decision she makes, and her future will most likely be tied up in the courts in coming months. They, however, cannot fully remove her because of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that state officials can maintain their positions until the State Senate votes in a replacement. Mr. Evers has said he will ensure that Ms. Wolfe maintains her salary and access to her office in the meantime.
Earlier this week, Wisconsin Republicans suggested they would put forth a bill requiring legislative approval for any new House and Senate maps in the state. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to hear Democratic-led lawsuits that seek to remove the current G.O.P.-drawn lines.
Republican lawmakers have also said in recent weeks that they would be open to impeaching the newest addition to the state’s Supreme Court, Justice Janet Protasiewicz, a Democrat, before she has heard a case. In her campaign this year, she was unusually blunt about her positions on issues including abortion rights and the state’s maps, which she called “rigged.”