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.
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.
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.
“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. “