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Milwaukee committee approves appointment for city’s next top election official 

The Milwaukee Common Council will likely vote on the nomination of Paulina Gutiérrez next week

Paulina Gutiérrez
Paulina Gutiérrez appears during a city meeting on Monday, June 3, 2024. Screenshot from City of Milwaukee website

A Milwaukee committee has unanimously approved the mayor’s pick for the city’s next top election official after the former director was replaced just months ahead of the presidential election. 

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson appointed Paulina Gutiérrez to replace Claire Woodall as the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission in May. The city’s judiciary and legislation committee Monday approved that nomination.

Gutiérrez still needs to be confirmed by the Milwaukee Common Council. A vote will likely take place during a June 11 meeting.

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Gutiérrez, who is currently deputy director of the commission, appeared before the committee Monday and answered questions from alders about her prior experience and the upcoming election.

“I am committed to Milwaukee and to our mission, which is to ensure that elections are administered in a fair, transparent, equitable and accessible manner in order to instill voter confidence in the democratic process,” Gutiérrez said during the meeting.  

Gutiérrez has been deputy director of the commission for a year and a half. Her resume lists being in charge of central count, which processes thousands of absentee ballots on election day. It also says she was “appointed to lead voter services, including voter registration, absentee voting, system access management, and campaign finance administration for the largest City in the State of Wisconsin.”

Before coming to the Milwaukee Election Commission, Gutiérrez worked as a legislative assistant for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. She also worked as the emergency communications and policy director for the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and as the legislative fiscal manager for the city’s department of administration, according to her resume.

“I have a strong foundation for leadership in local government,” Gutiérrez said during the meeting. “Regardless, elections are not run by just one person, as they depend upon the dedication and hard work of a community of people.”

Gutiérrez said she has a network of former and current election officials to reach out to if she has questions and said her staff has been helpful as well.

“I am confident in their abilities and in places where I need assistance, I know where to go to get those resources,” she said.

Gutiérrez said she’s working to recruit and train more poll workers for the November election. 

“I’m feeling really good,” she said. “One great thing about a November election is that a lot of people are motivated to work.”

Claire Woodall-Vogg speaks on the phone from her office at City Hall
Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, speaks on the phone from her office at City Hall during the partisan primary on Aug. 11, 2020. Will Cioci/Wisconsin Watch

Meanwhile, former director Claire Woodall accepted a temporary role with the city to “communicate” and “provide written guidance” to Gutiérrez, according to a separation agreement. She’ll stay in that position until Aug. 9 and receive bi-weekly payments of $5,099 during the next few months.

Jeff Fleming, a spokesperson for Mayor Johnson, said in an email that Johnson “appreciates the thoughtful questions and careful consideration offered by the Council committee.”

“The Mayor is confident Paulina Gutiérrez is the right person for this important position, and he looks forward to the final confirmation vote next week,” Fleming added.

Fleming previously said the change was made due to a “number of factors.” 

Johnson made the announcement as part of a slew of other leadership and administration changes after he was sworn in for a new term as mayor.

The shakeup comes as the city prepares for the presidential election this November. Clerks and election officials across the state and nation have been dealing with enhanced scrutiny regarding elections in recent years.

While appearing as a witness in the trial for Kimberly Zapata, the former Milwaukee election official who was sentenced last month for election fraud, Woodall testified that her office was facing threats of violence.