The top election official in Wisconsin appears poised to remain in her post for now – after state election commissioners deadlocked Tuesday on her reappointment.
Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, has been targeted by Republican lawmakers and conservative activists ever since the 2020 election saw Joe Biden flip this crucial swing state on his way to the White House. Her term was slated to end Saturday.
The stalemate has added to uncertainty about the future of election oversight in a key presidential battleground ahead of the 2024 elections.
During a meeting Tuesday, a majority of the six-member commission that oversees elections voiced support for Wolfe, a widely respected nonpartisan administrator. But Democrats on the state elections commission effectively blocked an up-or-down vote on her reappointment, saying they had no assurances that the Republican-controlled state Senate would confirm Wolfe for a second, four-year term.
In the end, all three Democrats abstained on the question of her reappointment. The commission, evenly divided between Democratic and GOP appointees, requires at least four “yes” votes to take action.
In a news conference immediately after the vote, Wolfe said she had not “fully digested” the commission’s actions. But she said her intention was to ensure that the agency and local election officials “have the stability” needed to carry out next year’s elections.
Democrats relied on a 2022 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling to argue that Wolfe could remain in her post. In that case, the then-conservative majority on the court ruled that lawmakers cannot replace an appointed official until their post is vacant. The justices held that the end of a term does not constitute a vacancy.
Commissioners said they were aware that litigation over Wolfe’s status was likely.
“Absent a promise from the Senate to confirm Meagan Wolfe, I don’t think we should even play this game,” Democratic Commissioner Mark Thomsen said as he opposed even holding a vote on the reappointment. “I will take my shots with the court, rather than at the Senate.”
The commission’s chair, Republican appointee Don Millis, said he was “very concerned” that Wolfe’s status as a holdover would lead to questions about the legitimacy of her future actions and further feed election conspiracy theories in the state.
Wolfe has defended the 2020 election and pushed back against rampant, unfounded claims that widespread election fraud marred the results of the presidential contest that year. Biden won Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, a victory that has survived multiple lawsuits and election reviews.