Wisconsin's top election official refuses to resign, says agency followed state law
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The leader of the Wisconsin Elections Commission is refusing to step down amid several Republican lawmakers asking her to resign.
Meagan Wolfe, the nonpartisan administrator who oversees the commission, said resignation calls from Republican lawmakers are "baseless" and believes they're being driven by partisan politics.
"I think in some ways that they think I'm an easy target. I'm not," Wolfe said. "My job is also to correct the record and to provide facts to the public when there are baseless partisan claims that are made in an attempt to undermine the integrity of our elections."
Wolfe, who was unanimously confirmed for her position by the state Senate in 2019, is defending her agency's decision during the 2020 election to ban clerks from entering nursing homes to help residents vote during the pandemic.
The six members who serve on the bipartisan commission unanimously voted in March 2020 to suspend sending special voting deputies to these facilities in effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Instead, the commission told clerks to send absentee ballots to nursing homes rather than election officials.
Wolfe, who didn't cast a vote in the decision, is being accused by a Racine County sheriff and some Republicans, of breaking state law. It's a claim Wolfe dismissed and said the change in procedures was necessary to allow individuals the right to vote.
"It was a very transparent decision and I also think the commission's decision allowed voters in those care facilities to be able to participate," Wolfe said.
The Racine County sheriff alleges sending absentee ballots to a Mount Pleasant nursing home, instead of special voting deputies, resulted in employees at the care facility helping some incompetent residents vote.
Wolfe said it's possible some procedures were not followed correctly, but emphasized her agency followed state law and is encouraging Racine officials to submit their concerns to a district attorney.
"Let's be clear, no one should ever be coerced or influenced to vote in a particular way, and if that indeed did happen, that most certainly should be investigated and most certainly should be referred to a district attorney," said Wolfe.
No charges have been filed in the Racine sheriff's investigation of alleged voter fraud. Officials have asked for a statewide investigation, but Attorney General Josh Kaul dismissed those calls on Monday.
"The way we decide to conduct statewide investigations is not based on political considerations, it's based on evidence we receive," said Kaul. "Here, again, there is no evidence of any similar allegations in anywhere else in the state, and even the one place there has been allegations, there's been no charges brought."
So far, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers have asked Wolfe to resign, calling the agency "severely mismanaged."
“Clearly there is a severe mismanagement of WEC, and a new administrator is needed," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) in a statement on Friday. "Cover-ups and complacency with law-breaking are red flags Wisconsinites cannot ignore.”
Wolfe explained that it was a commission's decision to send absentee ballots to nursing homes, not hers. She also emphasized she has no plans to leave her post.
"I am required by law to be nonpartisan. I do not have a vote the commission," said Wolfe. "I don't think any of the claims have any basis and I do think this is partisan politics at its worst."
Wolfe also supported statements from Dean Knudson, a Republican commissioner, who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lawmakers are trying to find a scapegoat since Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump in 2020.
The calls for Wolfe to resign come amid Republicans launching multiple election investigations despite Biden narrowly defeating Trump by nearly 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, results that have been upheld in court rulings and recounts.