Wisconsin’s GOP Is Trying to Fire Key Players in the Next Election

A top Wisconsin elections official is facing a push to oust her despite bipartisan praise for her work. And a newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court judge is facing impeachment before she even hears a case.

Following a pair of disappointing elections, Wisconsin Republicans are seeking to replace two state officials, whom the right has accused of election impropriety. One, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe, has been subject to years of baseless 2020 election fraud conspiracy theories, despite Republican-led investigations finding no significant election malfeasance. The other, newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, has been targeted as unfit for the court because of her stated views on gerrymandering and abortion rights.

The two crusades, which escalated over the past week, have seen Wisconsin Republicans re-litigating the last election—and putting the next election’s operations into question.

Wolfe has served as the head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) since 2018.

“She was perceived to be nonpartisan, and if anything, probably leaning Republican, because the Republicans were pretty enthusiastic about making her the administrator,” Jay Heck, executive director of the pro-democracy group Common Cause in Wisconsin told The Daily Beast of Wolfe’s reputation before 2020.

The commission is nonpartisan, but became the target of Republican ire after the 2020 election, which saw President Joe Biden win the battleground state. Election fraud conspiracy theorists took aim at the WEC, and Wolfe in particular, accusing them of throwing the election to Biden.

“Those people demanded a scalp,” Heck said of election deniers. “Meagan became the convenient scapegoat.”

Repeated audits of the 2020 election, including those led by Republicans, revealed no evidence of significant fraud. But nearly three years after that election, with her term up for renewal, her job is on the line.

At an Aug. 29 Wisconsin Senate hearing, Wolfe’s critics assembled to reiterate a series of debunked election fraud claims, and to blame them on Wolfe.

Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, told the hearing that “a majority of people in Wisconsin have doubts about the honesty of elections in this state. That’s disgraceful.”

Peter Bernegger, a Wisconsin election denialist, went further. “I don’t call for Meagan Wolfe’s ouster,” he said. “I call for her arrest.”

Wolfe has not been charged with crimes. On the contrary, she’s one of the most respected officials in her field, earning bipartisan support from other elections experts who, in an open letter to lawmakers, called her “one of the most highly-skilled election administrators in the country.”

Repeated audits of Wisconsin’s 2020 election have only confirmed its accuracy.

We are in a world of crazy for next year.

Even Gableman, an election skeptic who warned last week of “doubts” about Wisconsin elections, previously led a probe into the 2020 race. The $1.1-million taxpayer-funded investigation returned no evidence of significant fraud.

A few Wisconsinites have been charged, or been threatened with charges, over election-related offenses since 2020. Among them were critics of Wolfe at the Aug. 29 hearing. Also in attendance was local conservative activist Harry Wait, who was accused of election fraud and identity theft last year when he allegedly requested multiple politicians’ ballots. (Gableman previously acted as Wait’s attorney in the case, which is scheduled for trial next year).

And Bernegger, who called for Wolfe’s arrest at the hearing, was sent a letter this summer from the state’s Capitol Police chief, warning that Bergnegger’s actions toward Wolfe “could be interpreted as ‘stalking’ under state law.” (Wolfe was previously convicted of mail and bank fraud in an elaborate business scheme involving catfish carcasses.)

The Aug. 29 hearing came amid a tense legislative battle over whether to renew Wolfe’s post. Republicans have a supermajority in the Wisconsin Senate, which Democrats fear will be used to remove Wolfe. Democrats, in turn, claim the legislature does not have authority to remove Wolfe without votes from an additional election commission. The matter is expected to be decided in court.

On Friday, Senate Republicans announced that they would vote on Wolfe’s reappointment on Monday. That vote, which Democrats argue is invalid, could set off a legal fight.

Wisconsin’s top court, however, is facing turmoil of its own as Republicans consider impeaching a newly elected liberal judge.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s 11-point victory in April gave the Wisconsin Supreme Court its first liberal majority since 2011. During her election campaign, Protasiewicz was supportive of abortion rights. She was also critical of the state’s heavily gerrymandered electoral maps, which have allowed Wisconsin Senate Republicans to gain a veto-proof majority in a purple state with a Democratic governor.

Two lawsuits filed this summer seek to have the Wisconsin Supreme Court toss those Republican-drawn electoral maps, in favor of more neutral redistricting.

Republicans have attacked Protasiewicz over her stated opinions on gerrymandering and abortion, calling to impeach her if she does not recuse herself from court cases on those issues (thereby returning the court to a conservative majority). Wisconsin Republicans have a majority in the Assembly and a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which would allow them to impeach Protasiewicz, provided every Senate Republican voted for the measure.

Even if only the Assembly votes to impeach, sparing the more difficult Senate vote, Protasiewicz could be sidelined during a vote over electoral maps, Heck said. “They want to run out the clock so the gerrymandering can’t be overturned in time for the 2024 election,” he said.

That election’s operations could be even more controversial without Wolfe, whom Heck and other experts have noted has no obvious successor.

During the Aug. 29 hearing, Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson testified in Wolfe’s favor.

“Considering what happened after the 2020 elections and since, we are in a world of crazy for next year,” she said. “We need strong leadership, and Meagan has proven that.”


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