Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, left, says her agency has seen no credible evidence of widespread or systemic problems in the Nov. 3 election. Despite that, rumors of vote fraud persist in Wisconsin. Wolfe is seen during a September 2018 meeting of the Elections Commission with Commissioner Dean Knudson. (Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch) Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch
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The Wisconsin Elections Commission declined to vote Wednesday on whether the state’s top elections official should appear before a state Senate hearing on her reappointment as a fight continues over who will lead elections in the critical battleground state ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

Without clear instructions from commissioners, it is up to Meagan Wolfe, the commission’s administrator, to decide whether she will testify before Republicans who control the state Senate and wish to force a vote on firing her.

“It is a really difficult spot,” Wolfe said. “I feel like I am being put in an absolutely impossible, untenable position either way.”

Wolfe has been a target of conspiracy theorists who falsely claim she was part of a plan to rig the 2020 vote in Wisconsin, and some Republican leaders have vowed to oust her.

The bipartisan elections commission on June 27 deadlocked 3-3 along party lines on a vote to reappoint Wolfe, with Democrats abstaining in order to cause the nomination to fail. Without a nomination from at least four commissioners, a recent state Supreme Court ruling appears to allow Wolfe to continue indefinitely as head of the elections commission, even past the end of her term.

Senate Republicans tried to proceed with the reappointment process anyway, deciding in a surprise vote the following day to move ahead with a committee hearing and ultimately hold a vote on whether to fire her.

Commissioners said Wednesday they would not vote on a motion to either authorize or prohibit Wolfe from appearing at a hearing of the Senate elections committee, as it is not standard for the commission to decide those matters.

“Meagan Wolfe is the chief elections officer for the state of Wisconsin. I have no interest in babysitting who she speaks to,” said Democratic Commissioner Ann Jacobs.

The commission’s decision came despite partisan disagreements about the legitimacy of the Senate’s actions.

“They do not have a nomination before them. I don’t care what they said in that resolution,” Jacobs said. “I don’t have any interest in indulging the Legislature’s circus, which is based on a false reading of the law.”

But Don Millis, the Republican chair of the commission, argued that if Wolfe fails to appear, it could worsen the already tense situation.

“They’re probably going to hold a hearing anyway,” he said. “We’ve already seen what’s happened when we didn’t approve her nomination with four votes. I think that turned out very badly.”

The Senate has not yet set a date for the committee hearing on Wolfe’s reappointment, and Wolfe did not say at Wednesday’s meeting whether she will appear once a date has been set.

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Harm Venhuizen is a state government reporter with The Associated Press in Madison, Wisconsin, primarily covering elections and voting rights. Prior to this, Venhuizen interned at Military Times. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he served as editor-in-chief of Chimes, the student paper. During his time at Chimes, he earned recognition for his investigative coverage of controversial personnel decisions, sexual assault and university employment policies against same-sex marriage. Venhuizen grew up on a small farm in rural Wisconsin, and spent a summer working as a wildfire firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.