Wisconsin Republicans Are Unleashing a Very Trumpy Attack on the Democratic Process

The GOP-led legislature is fighting to preserve gerrymandered maps and oust a liberal Supreme Court justice, all while voting to fire a top elections administrator.
A resident casts a ballot at a polling place set up for early voting in Racine Wisconsin.
A resident casts a ballot at a polling place set up for early voting in Racine, Wisconsin.Scott Olson/Getty Images

In their latest broadside against the democratic process, Wisconsin Republicans on Thursday voted to fire the state’s top nonpartisan elections official, a well-respected administrator who has been the subject of MAGA lies and conspiracy theories since the 2020 election. “The Senate’s vote today to remove me is not a referendum on the job I do, but rather a reaction to not achieving the political outcome they desire,” Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said after the 22-11 party-line vote in the GOP-held state Senate. “It’s unfortunate that political pressures have forced a group of our lawmakers to embrace unfounded rumors about my leadership, my role in the commission, and our system of elections.”

“Elections in Wisconsin are run with integrity,” added Wolfe, who is suing to keep her job with the support of Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both of whom are Democrats. “The senate has blatantly disregarded state law in order to put its full stamp of approval on the ongoing baseless attacks on our democracy,” Kaul said in a statement. “We are going to court to minimize the confusion resulting from today’s stunt and to protect a pillar of our democracy—the fair administration of elections.”

The attempted ouster of Wolfe—which Republican Devin LeMahieu cast as an effort to “rebuild faith in Wisconsin’s elections”—is one of several GOP attacks on democracy in the state, which was key to Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 and is expected to play an outsize role in the 2024 contest. Republicans, who control the state legislature, are also fighting Evers to maintain their gerrymandered maps and threatening to impeach liberal state Supreme Court justice Janet Protasiewicz—before she’s even ruled on a single case. “If you have a justice that has predetermined cases and is not going to take themselves off the case, I want to know what all of our options are so that we are ready to go if it is required,” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said this week amid the redistricting battle, referring to Protasiewicz’s description of the GOP-drawn maps as “谤颈驳驳别诲.” Taken together, the moves amount to a multi-pronged effort to disregard the will of the people in Wisconsin, which was a focus of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss—even though exhaustive reviews, including a highly-partisan “audit” by a right-wing former state Supreme Court justice, failed to prove any of the former president’s lies or conspiracy theories.

Wolfe has been a high-profile target of those bogus election-fraud claims, with Vos even demanding her resignation in 2021. “Clearly, there is severe mismanagement,” Vos said at the time, “and a new administrator is needed.” But Wolfe—who resisted that call to step down—isn’t the only election official in the state to get caught in the middle of Trump’s self-serving lies. As I reported last year, just ahead of the midterms, election workers in Wisconsin and beyond have been subjected to alarming threats and intimidation stemming from Trump’s attacks, raising significant concerns for the democratic process itself. “It’s not a good sign for democracy,” as one Wisconsin election official told me, “if I’m worried about bomb threats or an attack on my office.”

Those efforts to erode the democratic process intensified with the state Senate vote Thursday, as Evers noted in a statement, calling on the state’s Justice Department to come to Wolfe’s defense. “Wisconsin Republicans’ attempt to illegally fire Wisconsin’s elections administrator without cause today shows they are continuing to escalate efforts to sow distrust and disinformation about our elections, denigrate our clerks, poll workers, and election administrators, and undermine basic tenets of our democracy, including the peaceful transfer of power,” Evers said.

Wolfe has said she will remain in her position for now, and her future will likely be decided in court. But regardless of the outcome, the vote adds to the climate of distrust and uncertainty around the democratic process: “I think it’s really worrisome because we’re in the final stages of preparation for the 2024 elections,” as Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told the Washington Post. “The elections commission is training clerks around the state and issuing guidance, so to have uncertainty about who the top administrator is going into this crucial election season, I think is a real problem.”