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GOP alleges Milwaukee, Madison elections officials discriminated against its poll workers

Election officials from both counties say all standard protocols were followed

Two workers sit at a table inside a theater.
Poll workers sit at a table as voters come through Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Two local Republican parties have filed complaints against election officials and the Wisconsin Elections Commission asserting Republicans were denied poll worker positions in last week’s primary election.

The Republican Parties of Dane and Milwaukee Counties, supported by the Republican National Committee, alleged that Milwaukee and Madison election chiefs favored Democratic and unaffiliated poll workers in the April 2 election.

In the complaints, the parties request declarations that the election officials refused to perform their statutory duties and call on the election offices to correct their processes for future.

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“Wisconsin election officials defied state law by refusing to hire a fair number of Republican election inspectors, despite having hundreds of Republican nominees available,” said RNC Chairman Michael Whatley in a statement. “The Republican Party is filing these complaints to compel election officials to follow the law and guarantee bipartisan access to important election administration positions in the Badger State.”

Election officials from the two Democratic strongholds both say that they followed proper procedures.

“The complaint contains significant misstatements of the facts,” wrote Madison city attorney Michael Haas in a statement.

“We accept all eligible workers and have not ‘rejected’ any affiliated workers,” wrote Claire Woodall, who directs the Milwaukee Election Commission.

April Winfield, left, shows her ID before voting Tuesday, April 2, 2024, at the Beloit Public Library in Beloit, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The two county GOP parties filed their separate complaints on behalf of local Republicans who had been nominated to serve as election inspectors — or poll workers — in this year’s election cycle.

Under Wisconsin state law, the two major parties nominate and submit affiliated inspectors who then must go through an application process, followed by a background check and training. If additional poll workers are needed, election officials hire unaffiliated people.

The RNC alleges Milwaukee used 215 Democratic poll workers and 49 Republicans, and Madison used 60 Democrats and 51 Republicans. It also alleges Republicans submitted more than 250 names in Milwaukee, and about 150 in Madison. The complaint argues this amounts to most of their nominees being arbitrarily and unfairly rejected.

The Milwaukee complaint states Woodall did not adequately explain the use of a new online portal to Republican applicants.

In a statement, Woodall said all workers who complete their application and training are assigned to a polling location, or to central count, but some people do not complete those required steps. She provided contact logs that showed the named complainant did not respond to five emails reminding him to complete his application.

“The Election Commission has remained in frequent contact with Republican leadership both at the state and local level regarding the status of all nominated inspectors,” she wrote. “Contact logs, application status reports, etc. was all proactively provided by our office throughout this Spring.”

The Madison complaint states “unaffiliated and Democrat Party election inspectors received more favorable treatment than” Republican applicants.

Haas, the city attorney, likewise argued some Republican nominees did not complete their process.

“All proper procedures were followed in appointing election inspectors and many individuals nominated by the Republican Party did not complete required paperwork to be hired or respond to communications from the Clerk’s Office regarding their availability,” he said.

An attorney for the Republicans who filed the complaints did not respond to WPR’s request for comment.