The Republican-led Wisconsin Senate on Thursday voted to remove the state's chief election official ahead of the 2024 presidential election, prompting a lawsuit from the state’s top prosecutor who said the Senate lacked that authority.
In a 22-11 vote along party lines, Republicans voted to remove Meagan Wolfe, a nonpartisan administrator of the battleground state’s elections commission.
Hours after the Senate vote, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, announced a lawsuit seeking an order declaring Wolfe is lawfully holding over in her current position and the Senate has no power to reject her.
Kaul called the Senate's move "reckless" during a news conference Thursday.
“While the Senate has purported to take a vote on an appointment of Meagan Wolfe, there is in fact no appointment,” Kaul said. “The state Senate has blatantly ignored Wisconsin law in order to put its stamp of approval on baseless attacks on elections in Wisconsin."
The lawsuit names Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, House Speaker Robin Vos, and Senate President Chris Kapenga as defendants. LeMahieu introduced a resolution Thursday calling on the elections commission to appoint an interim administrator and to submit a nomination for a permanent replacement.
LeMahieu said Friday that the elections commission had a "statutory duty" to appoint an interim administrator, and accused Wolfe and Democratic appointees on the panel of showing "blatant disregard for the appointments process" and state laws.
"They have cast unnecessary suspicion on the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections," LeMahieu said in a statement. "The vote yesterday represents the lack of faith that Wisconsinites have in Meagan Wolfe as administrator of the Wisconsin Election Commission."
Vos and Kapenga did not respond to requests for comment.
State Sen. Cory Tomcyzk, who voted to oust Wolfe, said in a video statement that the elections commission had neglected its duties and "have gone to historic lengths to complicate what should have been a simple process."
The Wisconsin Election Commission did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans had been calling for Wolfe to resign over how she conducted the 2020 presidential election in that state which was won by President Joe Biden. In June, the bipartisan elections commission, comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, hit a deadlock over reappointing Wolfe for a second four-year term.
While Republicans voted to renominate her, Democrats abstained over concerns that the Republican-led state Senate would block her confirmation.
In the absence of a four-vote majority nominating Wolfe for confirmation by the Senate, a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling appeared to permit Wolfe to continue in the position after her term concluded on July 1.
In remarks Thursday, Wolfe said she would continue to serve as the administrator for the elections commission "unless a final determination of a court says otherwise."
Wolfe has repeatedly defended how she handled the presidential contest and has spoken out against election fraud falsehoods that have frequently been promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies in the state.
Continuing to defend her record on Thursday, Wolfe told reporters the state Senate's vote was "a reaction to not achieving the political outcome they desire."
“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," Wolfe said.
“We cannot head into 2024 elections without a final determination of where the law stands regarding the correct course for the position of administrator because the commission is at a procedural gridlock,” she added.
The lawsuit comes hours after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, called on the state’s Justice Department to quickly provide representation to keep Wolfe in the role.
Taking aim at Republicans, who obtained a supermajority in the Senate earlier this year through a special election, Evers called the removal effort an "attempt to illegally fire Wisconsin’s elections administrator without cause," in a statement.
He also praised Wolfe as a "consummate, qualified professional who’s worked in voter registration and outreach and election security for more than a decade."
Wolfe was appointed to the role of chief elections official by the state's bipartisan, six-member commission in 2018. She was unanimously confirmed by the state Senate in May 2019 for a four-year term.