“Milwaukee election shakeup triggers doubts about whether new leader is ready to run 2024 vote”


Several members of Milwaukee’s election staff have voiced concerns to the mayor’s office about the inexperience of the new leader chosen to replace the Election Commission’s recently ousted executive director, two people close to the matter told Votebeat.

The new head, Paulina Gutiérrez, became deputy director of the commission in 2023 and had worked in several other positions in city and state government before that. But during her tenure at the commission, she has not worked a federal general election.

In addition to staff members raising concerns in a meeting with the mayor’s chief of staff and Gutiérrez herself, two employees wrote letters to the mayor’s office noting their doubts about whether she is equipped to lead the commission during a critical time in Wisconsin’s largest city, said a person close to the commission who requested anonymity to avoid professional consequences.

The concerns sprang from Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s surprise move not to reappoint Claire Woodall, who has been with the commission for about a decade and executive director since 2020. Woodall told Votebeat that she was ousted because she was quoted in a recent news article criticizing election staff over a ballot error. A spokesperson for the mayor said there was more to it but declined to be more specific.

The mayor’s office didn’t directly address multiple Votebeat questions about the mayor’s selection process, and Gutiérrez declined to answer Votebeat’s questions….

Woodall faced questions this year over an error in which more than 220 Milwaukee residents received absentee ballots for the incorrect ward. Much of the criticism came after Woodall told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about the commission’s mistake, “I can’t express how frustrating and infuriating it is that it just seems like there was no critical thinking involved or communication.”

Woodall had to rebuild trust and strengthen morale after that comment went public, she told Votebeat shortly after her removal.

“I regretted being that forthright … but also don’t feel like I can skirt details or sidestep questions in my line of work,” she said. “Folks didn’t follow procedure, and I was extremely frustrated when I uncovered that.”

Woodall said the comment to the newspaper was the sole reason Milwaukee officials cited for not reappointing her. Fleming disputed that.

“There were multiple … non-operational issues, management issues that were of significant concern,” he said, declining to elaborate….

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