Wisconsin Republicans allege anti-GOP bias in latest election challenge

<span>From left, poll workers at UW-Madison, register student voters on the campus in Madison, Wisconsin, on 2 April.</span><span>Photograph: John Hart/AP</span>
From left, poll workers at UW-Madison, register student voters on the campus in Madison, Wisconsin, on 2 April.Photograph: John Hart/AP

Wisconsin Republicans have hit the state election commission with complaints alleging that officials in the state’s two largest cities illegally rejected Republican applicants for poll worker positions for the primary election.

The complaints, filed by the Milwaukee county Republican party and Dane county Republican party, claim officials in Milwaukee and Madison violated state law by not contacting eligible Republicans nominated by their party to work the polls. The move furthers the GOP strategy of questioning election processes in key battleground states.

“This is the kind of misconduct that drives down faith in elections,” the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, Michael Whatley, said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”

State law requires clerks to choose poll workers, also called election inspectors, from lists submitted by the Republican and Democratic parties. If there aren’t enough party-nominated applicants to staff the polls, municipalities turn to non-party-affiliated applicants.

Officials in Madison and Milwaukee have rejected the claim that they unfairly rejected Republican applicants.

In an email, the executive director of the Milwaukee election commission, Claire Woodall, said that her office “has remained in frequent contact with Republican leadership both at the state and local level regarding the status of all nominated inspectors”. Charles Hanna, who claims in the Milwaukee complaint that he was unfairly rejected, failed to complete a mandatory online application, Woodall said.

Woodall sent the Guardian a screenshot of an internal log showing how municipal workers emailed Hanna five times regarding his application between 30 January and 25 March.

Michael Haas, the Madison city attorney, also disputed the characterization of the complaint filed against Madison officials, saying in an email that it “contains significant misstatements of the facts” and that “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.”

After the 2020 election, Donald Trump and his allies spread the false claim that Democrats and election officials colluded to rig the election for Joe Biden. The claims took hold among many of Trump’s supporters, prompting party activists to aim their focus on election administration, including training poll workers to challenge ballots and submit legal complaints in real time.

Since March, when the RNC co-chairs Lara Trump and Whatley took over the leadership of the party, the RNC stripped dozens of senior staff of their positions in a step towards stocking its ranks with Trump loyalists. Amid the overhaul, RNC leaders have hired prominent lawyers who promoted Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen – and have promised to double down on election litigation ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The RNC has already filed multiple lawsuits questioning states’ voter rolls – including one in Michigan, which the state’s top election official, Jocelyn Benson, denounced as “a meritless lawsuit filled with baseless accusations”.

The Republican party of Dane county and the Republican party of Milwaukee county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.