Common Cause Wisconsin Strongly Supports Retaining Meagan Wolfe as Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator

Testimony of Jay Heck, Executive Director, Common Cause Wisconsin for the August 29th, 2023, Wisconsin Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections And Consumer Protection regarding support of retaining Meagan Wolfe as Administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission


Senators Knodl, Spreitzer, Feyen, Smith and Quinn,

My name is Jay Heck and for the past 27 years I have had the privilege of serving as the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) the state’s largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organizations with more than 16,000 members and activists residing in every county and corner of the state. We have been active in Wisconsin since our founding in 1970. CC/WI does not endorse candidates for partisan political office and have bipartisan leadership of our state Governing Board, co-chaired by former Republican State Representative (1987-94), retired Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge and former member of the now-defunct Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, David Deininger of Monroe, as well as by former Democratic State Representative (2009-15) Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton.

We strongly support fair and free elections in Wisconsin and in the nation and believe that more citizens, not fewer, participating in the voting process is not only beneficial for our democracy but that it is essential for the maintenance of freedom, liberty and for the continuation of the American experiment in self-government which has lasted for the past 234 years, but with no guarantees that it will continue in the years ahead. Voting is a muscle that must be continually exercised and strengthened or it will atrophy, grow weak and be overwhelmed by forces seeking to exert authoritarian control and to thwart the will of the majority. Voter suppression is the manifestation of that anti-American, anti-democratic impulse that seeks to take root and grow in Wisconsin and in the nation. We will never cease to resist voter suppression and those misguided few in number pushing it, but who are vocal and persistent in seeking to advance it.

Frankly, we believe this hearing being held ostensibly to attack and besmirch the good name and excellent reputation of Meagan Wolfe is unfortunate and unnecessary, if not illegitimate. We will leave it to the courts to determine the outcome of the current dispute over whether the Wisconsin State Senate can legally remove the Administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, absent a majority of 4 votes of the Commissioners to vote to reappoint and thereby send the appointment to the State Senate, or to this committee for consideration. But I do want to put what is going on here today in some context to help Wisconsinites better understand what is at stake and why this hearing and the attempt to remove the current WEC Administrator is so misguided, wrong and damaging to democracy in Wisconsin.

When I started with Common Cause Wisconsin in 1996, elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying was overseen and administered by the state elections and ethics boards, which were composed of and controlled by partisan appointments. But those entities, established in the 1970’s, failed the citizens of Wisconsin in spectacular fashion when they failed to detect, investigate and root out the corruption that engulfed this building and the Legislature in 2001-2002, that stemmed from illegal activity that began to permeate this building in the late 1990’s. Remember the infamous Legislative Caucus Scandal that resulted in the criminal felony charges for misconduct in public office of the top legislative leaders of both political parties and their removal from office? Many Wisconsinites likely do not now but let me remind you. In the State Senate – the Democratic State Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Chvala and the Democratic Co-Chair of the Joint Finance Committee and an announced candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General, Brian Burke were both charged with numerous felony charges, including extortion. And both served time in jail. In the Assembly – the Republican Speaker, Scott Jensen, the Assembly Majority Leader, Steve Foti and the Assistant Majority Leader, Bonnie Ladwig – were all charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes and barred from holding public office.
For those of us who experienced that traumatic and cataclysmic event, it will forever be seared in our memories how far and low Wisconsin state government had fallen, been disgraced and failed its citizens.

But the Wisconsin Legislature and the leaders of both parties and in both chambers responded in a positive and affirmative manner to the 2002 Legislative Caucus Scandal. It took some time to get done but in January of 2007 The Republican-controlled Assembly and the Democratic-controlled State Senate came together to establish the very effective and independent Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) to replace the discredited and ineffective State Elections and Ethics Boards. And the votes by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers to put the GAB in place was virtually unanimous in both legislative chambers.

You will recall that the GAB was run by six retired judges, who are about the closest thing to having non-partisan arbiters of election and ethics laws that can be achieved. For eight years, until 2015, the GAB was a national model for how elections and ethics in a state could and should be administered and it had one of the most outstanding and experienced administrators in the nation at the helm of the GAB staff – Kevin Kennedy – who had more than 30 years of expertise and excellence in election and campaign finance administration. But the GAB proved to be too effective and independent for many in this building, including then Governor Scott Walker and the majority party eviscerated and destroyed the GAB and pushed Kennedy out of state government after decades of dedicated, quality service. Why that all happened, we could spend an entire hearing on and someday should. But for now, suffice it to say that the majority party with only Republican votes created what we have today – the Wisconsin Elections and Ethics Commissions which have been in place for the past seven years.

But the tinkering and partisan micromanagement of elections in Wisconsin continued and in 2018, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and then-State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald decided that the new WEC Administrator, Michael Haas, had to be removed – but not because he did anything wrong. Haas, like Kevin Kennedy before him, simply carried out and executed the decisions and directives made by the boards they served. But because Haas had had the temerity to run for the State Assembly some twenty-five years before as a Democratic candidate, the Republican leaders wanted him gone. And so, he too, was thrown under the bus. And then after all six WEC Commissioners, Republicans and Democrats alike, unanimously voted to appoint Meagan Wolfe as the new WEC Administrator in 2018, the Wisconsin State Senate also unanimously voted to confirm her in that role in 2019.

And so here we, or I should say you are here today, just four years later to now attempt to take down Meagan Wolfe, who by absolutely any objective and honest standard and analysis, has performed her role as WEC Administrator with the highest level of professionalism, competence, complete lack of favoritism or partisanship to either political party and who has successfully navigated this state and its voters through arguably the most difficult and trying circumstances in our 175-year history.

Meagan Wolfe began her distinguished career in election administration in 2011 and was charged with developing voter education and outreach for the state’s new voter photo ID law. Her voter outreach efforts included a photo ID public information and outreach campaign ( and establishing an elections agency presence and policy on social media. As the WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe has:


  • Strengthened Wisconsin’s election cybersecurity infrastructure
  • Improved voting accessibility for voters with disabilities
  • Increased and improved training for election officials and clerks
  • Carried out the will of the commission on bipartisan votes

False and completely baseless claims about election administration in Wisconsin have proliferated since the 2020 Presidential election. The claims are entirely unproven and inaccurate and are based on the completely false premise that the WEC administrator can make decisions unilaterally. That is not and never has been the case. The administrator does not have a vote on the matters the six Commissioners consider. The administrator’s job is to implement the decisions made by the six-member bipartisan Commission.
Furthermore, Meagan Wolfe has the full confidence of, and is supported by the vast majority of Wisconsin’s “front-line” election officials – the municipal election clerks and the elected county clerks of both political parties.

Meagan Wolfe is one of the most highly skilled election administrators in the country, respected widely by election officials of both political parties in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. In a letter sent to Speaker Robin Vos and signed by approximately 50 election experts and officials from all over the country, including the top Republican legal counsel for the George W. Bush (in 2000 and 2004) and Mitt Romney for President (2012) campaigns, Ben Ginsberg, as well as by the former Republican Secretaries of State of Florida, Ken Detzer and of Kentucky, Trey Grayson, they said of the false claims and attacks made on Wolfe:

“We hope that you and your colleagues will speak out against this line of harassment and speak truth to all Wisconsin voters – that their interests are well-served by the current leadership of the WEC, and that they can be confident of the results, regardless of whether their candidate wins or loses. And no one is better situated to competently continue that tradition in Wisconsin than the WEC’s current Election Administrator, Meagan Wolfe.”

We are, at this moment, literally weeks away from the launch of the 2024 election cycle in Wisconsin. Our state, as it has been for every election in the 21st century, will be the focus of national attention as a key, closely contested battleground state. It is vitally and critically important that our state election is administered by someone with the experience, integrity and expertise to successfully address the challenges and difficulties that may ensue in the months ahead.

The very worst thing that could happen would be to replace the current WEC Administrator with someone, anyone who does not have the experience, integrity and expertise that Meagan Wolfe possesses and has repeatedly demonstrated over the past four years. The vast majority of Wisconsin’s voters and citizens would and will lose confidence and trust in our elections and in you, their elected representatives if you commit the monumental mistake of ousting Meagan Wolfe as the Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator.

Thank you.