WEC Administrator won’t attend Senate reappointment hearing

Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Administrator Meagan Wolfe said Wednesday she won’t appear at a Senate committee hearing next week in which her reappointment to her position will be considered after Attorney General Josh Kaul weighed in to say the committee has no authority to do so. 

Wolfe’s four-year term as administrator expired earlier this summer, however after Senate Republicans signaled that they won’t confirm her to another term as the state’s chief elections official, the three Democrats on the six-member commission abstained on a vote to renominate her. The commission’s three Republicans voted to give her another term. 

The procedural move prevented Wolfe’s nomination from receiving the four votes traditionally required for the commission to pass a measure, while allowing Wolfe to stay in her seat. 

In a statement, Wolfe said she wouldn’t be attending the hearing. 

“As the state’s chief election official, engaging with lawmakers is a critical part of my role, and I look forward to discussing the good work of the Commission with them in the future,” Wolfe said.

Earlier this year, Democratic elections commissioner Mark Thomsen told the Examiner that Republicans want to take control of the process so they can appoint someone ahead of next year’s presidential election. 

“I see the big issue on the commission is going to be can we agree on a new administrator and if not what happens,” Thomsen said in April. “And I know that the Senate is thinking they’re going to pick the next administrator because they’re going to want to run that agency for 2024.” 

The Democratic appointees’ move to prevent a majority vote takes advantage of a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision from last year in which the Court ruled that an appointee to a government position can remain in that position after the expiration of their term so long as their replacement isn’t confirmed by the Senate. That case, Kaul v. Prehn, allowed a Republican appointee to the state Natural Resources Board to stay in his position for nearly two years after his term expired. 

Despite the commission’s failure to renominate Wolfe, the Senate passed a resolution stating that she had in fact been nominated and began the confirmation process. For years, Wolfe — whose role is nonpartisan and only allows her the authority to take actions allowed by the commission — has been the subject of partisan attacks since the 2020 election as Republicans have consistently spread conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. When Wolfe was first appointed in 2019, she was unanimously confirmed by the Republican-held Senate. 

Sen. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), chair of the Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections and Consumer Protection, had set a confirmation hearing for Wolfe next Tuesday. 

Earlier this month, Wolfe had asked the elections commission for its opinion on whether or not she should attend the hearing. The body decided not to officially weigh in on the question, with several members saying they trusted her judgment. 

On Wednesday, Kaul wrote in a letter to Wisconsin Legislative Council director Anne Sappenfield that the commission’s failed vote in June means that “to the extent that there is any unfounded doubt, I am writing to make clear that WEC has not appointed a new administrator, and there is no WEC administrator appointment before the Senate. This is not a close question under state law.”

Kaul added that the state statutes for appointing a new administrator are clear that “at least four members must agree for there to be a majority of the members of the commission,” and the Supreme Court’s decision on holdover appointees, in which Kaul was on the losing side, “squarely held that a holdover appointee may legally remain in office following the expiration of the appointee’s term, and the expiration of the term does not create a vacancy in office.”

The dispute is likely to be decided by a court. If the Prehn standard is upheld, Wolfe will be allowed to remain in her role. If it’s overturned and a court rules the position is vacant, the commission will have to again attempt to reach four votes on a nomination. 

If the commission is unable to choose someone, 45 days after the position becomes vacant, the responsibility moves to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Legislative Organization — which is made up of the majority and minority leadership in both houses. JCLO, controlled by Republicans with a 6-4 majority, will have the authority to appoint an interim administrator who can hold the job for up to one year or until the Senate confirms someone permanently.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F08%2F24%2Fwec-administrator-wont-attend-senate-reappointment-hearing%2F by Henry Redman

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