2 controversial votes at Wisconsin's state Capitol show GOP efforts to shape elections

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In 2018, the Wisconsin State Capitol at Madison. The Republican effort to change election rules by 2024 is tied to two votes on Thursday.

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The Wisconsin State Capitol at Madison in 2018 is shown. The Republican effort to change election rules by 2024 is tied to two votes on Thursday.

Andy Manis/Getty Images


MADISON (Wis.) — Two votes at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Thursday show Republicans’ controversial attempts to shape the election rules for the battleground state heading into the 2024 elections.

The GOP lawmakers moved forward with a complex procedural effort to remove the state’s top election official. The second vote seeks to overhaul how Wisconsin’s gerrymandered political maps will be drafted in the future. It is seen as a way to preempt any action taken by the newly liberal majority of the state Supreme Court. Both moves will have long-term effects on democracy in this swing state, where presidential elections are often decided by less that a percentage point. The Wisconsin Supreme Court was able to narrowly overturn the result of Joe Biden’s state-wide election in 2020. It came within a single justice’s vote.

And the removal of the top elections official could mean chaos for the state’s voting administration just months before the 2024 presidential primary.

Impeachment threats, recusal demands and “rigged” maps

Back in April, Justice Janet Protasiewicz won a seat on Wisconsin’s highest court after a campaign that shattered spending records. Her 11-point win shifted the court’s balance to the left, for the first 15 years. Before she had even heard her first case, Republican legislators began bringing up the possibility of impeachment. It’s due to comments Protasiewicz had made on the campaign trail, describing Wisconsin’s political maps as “rigged”. “

On Sept. 7, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Janet Protasiewicz attended her first hearing in her new role as a judge. She is under investigation by Republican legislators for possible impeachment.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Janet Protasiewicz attends her first court hearing on Sept. 7, 7..

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They give the GOP an outsized power in state politics: Although the Wisconsin electorate is evenly split, Republicans hold about a two-thirds majority in the legislature. They give the GOP outsized power in state politics: Although the Wisconsin electorate is evenly split, Republicans hold about a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
Liberals heralded Protasiewicz’s election as an opportunity to challenge those maps, and progressive groups quickly filed suit. They argued that her campaign comments — and the $10 million her campaign received from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin — constitute a pre-judgment of the case. According to state ethics laws, campaign contributions don’t create a conflict of interests that would force a judge to recuse themselves from a case. Indeed, other state high court justices have shared their personal views on a range of hot-button political issues.

Logistically, however, impeachment could be used to hold Protasiewicz at bay as pivotal cases make their way to the court. The process begins after a majority of the Assembly moves to impeach, and finalized when a two-thirds majority in the Senate does the same.

However, if Republicans impeach Protasiewicz in the Assembly and then simply don’t hold a vote in the Senate, she would be held from the bench indefinitely.


Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks to the media in 2022. The Republican has proposed an nonpartisan redistricting map to prevent the liberal-controlled State Supreme Court from redrawing the maps currently drawn by the GOP.

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Wisconsin assembly speaker Robin Vos speaks to the media in 2022. The Republican Party has proposed a nonpartisan plan for redistricting to prevent the liberal-controlled State Supreme Court from tossing out the current GOP drawn maps.

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Republicans may be tempering this strategy, which has garnered national attention — even as Vos, the Assembly speaker, has also convened a panel of former justices to investigate impeachment as an option.

Earlier this week, in a notable about-face, Vos announced a proposal to implement nonpartisan redistricting in Wisconsin, which he said would create new maps before the 2024 election cycle begins. Vos, who had previously opposed similar initiatives, claimed that he was listening to the voters and trying to avoid costly political battles.

“There will be no need to have the whole discussion about recusal and millions of dollars of attack ads and special interest trying to buy the election and all the things that we know are coming” if his bill is passed, he said.

Democrats, who have called for nonpartisan redistricting in the past, attacked the proposal as fast-tracked and containing loopholes that would allow Republicans in the legislature to hold onto power. And Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers blasted the bill as “bogus” and akin to election interference.

“With the possibility that fair maps and nonpartisan redistricting may be coming to Wisconsin whether they like it or not, Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps,” Evers said in a statement.

On Thursday the Assembly advanced the measure. The current Wisconsin maps would remain in place if the proposal is passed by the legislature, but vetoed or rejected by Evers. Redistricting suits will then likely be brought before the state Supreme Court if the proposal fails to pass the legislature. If those challenges ultimately succeed, Wisconsin could undergo a dramatic redistricting process that would weaken the GOP’s stronghold on state power.The non-nomination of Meagan Wolfe
Meanwhile, Republicans in the state Senate have undertaken efforts to challenge the administration of state elections. The procedural wrangling has stretched over months — and now faces a legal challenge from the state’s top lawyer.

Senate lawmakers voted Thursday to oust Meagan Wolfe as elections administrator in a confirmation hearing that Democrats called a “sham.” Wisconsin’s Democratic Attorney General immediately filed a suit claiming that the hearing was invalid because Wolfe, who has been in the nonpartisan position since 2019, had not been nominated for a second term. According to Wisconsin law, the Senate may have purportedly voted on Meagan’s appointment, but in reality, no appointment has taken place. The legal question is what constitutes an open vacancy in a public office. Last summer, a conservative majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that an appointed official’s term expiring does not automatically create a vacancy to be filled.

Democrats at the time blasted that decision, which allowed an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker to stay in place indefinitely after the end of his term.


Kaul and other Democrats now say that Republicans who defended that decision inadvertently opened the door for Wolfe to remain in the administrator’s job after her first term expired earlier this summer.

“Whatever the law is, you can’t change your approach to it once the positions change,” Kaul said.

Wolfe became a lightning rod for criticism from many Trump supporters after he narrowly lost Wisconsin to Biden in 2020.

That election’s result has been affirmed by multiple recounts, court challenges and nonpartisan audits. Wolfe has been the target of baseless allegations of fraud since then. She is the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is bipartisan. And some of the voting processes that have been attacked since that election — such as the use of ballot drop boxes, which have since been banned in Wisconsin — predated her tenure.

Republicans said those accusations are part of why they no longer support her.

“Wisconsinites have expressed concerns with the administration of elections both here in Wisconsin and nationally,” said Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, who pushed forward the confirmation proceedings, before the party-line vote to fire Wolfe.

A timeline for Kaul’s legal challenge isn’t yet clear, but Wolfe says that she will continue reporting to work until a court tells her not to.

“Unless a final determination of a court says otherwise, I will continue to serve as the administrator of the

,” she said. She said that she would continue to serve as the administrator of the

until a court made a final determination. “