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Wisconsin Judge Rules Senate’s Vote to Dismiss Top Elections Official Ineffective

In a recent ruling, a Dane County judge declared that the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate’s decision to terminate the state’s nonpartisan chief elections official had no legal validity. Furthermore, lawmakers are prohibited from removing her from her position while a lawsuit regarding the matter is ongoing.

Administrator Meagan Wolfe will continue to serve as the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission until a decision is reached on whether it is legally mandatory for the elections commission to nominate an individual for Senate confirmation, stated Judge Ann Peacock.

Despite objections from Democrats and the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys, who asserted that the Senate lacked the authority to vote for dismissal at that time, Senate Republicans voted in September to terminate Wolfe.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul challenging the vote, Republican legislative leaders altered their stance in court filings earlier this month. They claimed that their vote to fire Wolfe was merely “symbolic” and held no legal weight. They also requested that Peacock instruct the elections commission to appoint an administrator for Senate confirmation.

“This injunction provides needed certainty and should resolve any confusion resulting from the Legislature’s actions,” Kaul stated in a press release.

An attorney representing GOP legislative leaders involved in the lawsuit did not provide an immediate response to an email requesting comment on Friday.

The bipartisan elections commission faced a deadlock in June when voting on Wolfe’s reappointment. Three Republican commissioners voted in favor, while the three Democrats abstained, effectively blocking the nomination from progressing to the Senate. Commission actions require a four-vote majority.

GOP lawmakers accused Democratic elections commissioners of failing in their duty by not voting, which led to the Senate’s rejection of Democratic Commissioner Joseph Czarnezki’s confirmation earlier this month, effectively terminating his role. In response, Democrats argued that the commission is not obligated to make an appointment and cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows Wolfe to continue serving as a holdover, a decision Republicans have used to maintain control of policy boards.

Meagan Wolfe has been the target of conspiracy theories and threats from election skeptics who falsely allege her involvement in a plot to manipulate the 2020 presidential election in favor of President Joe Biden. In 2020, Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, a result that withstood two partial recounts, a nonpartisan audit, a review by a conservative law firm, and numerous state and federal lawsuits.

The ongoing dispute over leadership in Wisconsin’s elections agency has created instability as the state prepares for the 2024 presidential race, affecting over 1,800 local clerks responsible for conducting elections. Judge Peacock’s recent order aims to maintain the current state of affairs.

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