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In Wisconsin, Republicans say the state's top election official has to go

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Republicans are still challenging the 2020 presidential election results in Wisconsin, pushing false claims that Donald Trump won that state's electoral votes. Now they're zeroing in on a long-time target, Meagan Wolfe, the top elections official in Wisconsin. And this matters for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that the state will likely be key to deciding who wins the White House in 2024. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM is with us now to tell us more about the GOP's campaign to remove Wolfe. Good morning.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: Well, so, Chuck, first, would you just tell us more about Meagan Wolfe's role? What does she do? Who does she report to? How does that office actually work?

QUIRMBACH: Sure. She's the elections administrator, officially nonpartisan. She answers to a bipartisan six-person board called the Wisconsin Elections Commission that sets rules, controls things like voter lists and helps the more than 1,800 local governments in the state run elections. Wolfe moved up from deputy administrator four years ago when the GOP-controlled state Senate unanimously supported her promotion.

MARTIN: So four years ago, the GOP-controlled state Senate supported her promotion. What happened since? Why did the Republicans decide that she's a problem?

QUIRMBACH: Well, you know, of course, the top Republican, then-President Donald Trump, didn't like the results of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, which showed him losing to Democrat Joe Biden by about 20,000 votes. Wisconsin was one of the states where Trump falsely claimed voter fraud. A recount and court rulings here backed the Biden win, but some conservatives won't let that go and still blame Meagan Wolfe for allowing unattended voter drop boxes and other measures that they claim cast a lot of doubt on the Biden victory.

MARTIN: So there was a hearing yesterday, Tuesday. The Republicans made the case for replacing her. Do they actually have the authority to do that?

QUIRMBACH: Well, if you ask Democrats, the answer is no. Wolfe's four-year term is technically up, but she stayed on the job. Democrats point to a ruling by the then-conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to let another official, a Republican appointee, stay on a state board after his term expired. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, says Wisconsin lawmakers currently don't have authority over Wolfe's job status, so she didn't even attend the hearing. But that hardly halted more than two dozen people who testified against her at the state Capitol in Madison, including conservative activist Jefferson Davis, who says Wolfe should be replaced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFFERSON DAVIS: This state and these voters and these people in this room deserve better than what they've had in the last four years.

MARTIN: So obviously, with this focus on her role now, how important will it be as we head into 2024?

QUIRMBACH: Well, her supporters say a lot matters here, including one supporter, Lisa Tollefson, county clerk in Rock County, Wis., She's a Democrat. Tollefson says Wisconsin needs an experienced state administrator like Wolfe to oversee results of what we expect to be a tight presidential race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA TOLLEFSON: We know that next year, Wisconsin, even now, is a battleground state. Considering what happened after the 2020 elections and since, we are in a world of crazy for next year.

QUIRMBACH: There could be a long path to deciding if Wolfe stays on the job. The legislative committee could vote - take a vote eventually, or the full state Senate could. If they do try to oust Wolfe, look for a lawsuit. And as we've said here in other conversations, the state Supreme Court in Wisconsin now is a 4-to-3 liberal majority.

MARTIN: That's Chuck Quirmbach. He's a reporter from member station WUWM in Milwaukee. Chuck, thank you.

QUIRMBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.
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