Replacement of Milwaukee election official unrelated to 2020 election

CLAIM: Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall was fired in recent days for her role in rigging the 2020 presidential election.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. A spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Woodall’s removal had nothing to do with how she ran elections, adding there “was no indication of election impropriety” in Milwaukee’s 2020 vote. He pointed to internal issues “that raised” concerns as the reason for the dismissal.

THE FACTS: With the 2024 election just six months away, social media users continue to promote erroneous claims of election-related fraud in 2020, most recently with a spotlight on Wisconsin.

“Claire Woodall, the Milwaukee elections director was replaced just 6 months before the presidential election,” reads one X post. “The reason? Mainstream media says it’s nothing to see here but some reports say otherwise. Claire printed 64,000 ballots in a back room at City Hall in Milwaukee and had random employees fill them out for the 2020 presidential election. Biden won Wisconsin over Trump by a margin of 20,649 votes.”

The post had received approximately 26,000 likes and more than 12,700 shares as of Monday.

Johnson replaced Woodall in a surprise move on May 6, announcing that her deputy, Paulina Gutierrez, would be in charge of the election commission. But the change has nothing to do with how Woodall ran elections, including in 2020.

The reason for the dismissal was related to “other issues internal to the election commission office and to city government that raised concern,” said Jeff Fleming, Johnson’s spokesperson. He declined to say what those issues were.

“People see one side on this side of the camera, but there are other things on the other side of the camera that I also have to deal with and that’s exactly what I did with my decision,” Johnson told WISN-TV. He declined to elaborate.

Neither Woodall nor Guitierrez returned messages from the AP seeking comment on the shakeup.

Milwaukee has been at the center of attention in Wisconsin, a state known for close elections and where four of the past six presidential contests have been decided by less than a percentage point.

In 2020, former President Donald Trump and others were quick to cry fraud after late-arriving results from Democratic-dominated Milwaukee helped President Joe Biden narrowly carry the state by just under 21,000 votes. Recounts demanded by Trump confirmed Biden’s victory.

Soon after the 2020 election, Woodall was targeted with baseless claims that she printed tens of thousands of ballots to swing the election in Biden’s favor. The claims were part of a December 2021 lawsuit that alleged Woodall was part of a “sect” that “printed ballots for Biden in a back conference room” of Milwaukee City Hall. It was dismissed in February 2023 after the plaintiff did not appear in court.

Asked whether Woodall’s ousting was related to these false allegations, Fleming told The Associated Press in an email: “Absolutely not the case. There is no indication of any election impropriety in any election in Milwaukee.”

Fleming further confirmed that claims Woodall helped rig the 2020 election with ballots printed “in a back room at City Hall in Milwaukee” are false, adding that he is “certain that printing capacity does not even exist in City Hall.”

Other unfounded rumors put Woodall at the center of election fraud schemes involving misplaced flash drives, ballot harvesting and citizens voting without photo ID. She received myriad threatening messages as a result, according to news reports at the time.

Kimberly Zapata, Woodall’s former deputy, was sentenced to probation and fined $3,000 only a week after it was announced that Woodall would be replaced. She was convicted of misconduct in office and fraud for obtaining fake absentee ballots in October 2022. The former election official argued that she was acting as a whistleblower.

In Wisconsin, Biden’s 2020 victory by nearly 21,000 votes has withstood recounts, multiple state and federal lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a review by a conservative activist law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. An Associated Press review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

Biden won the 2020 election, but his success has been followed by persistent, baseless allegations of fraud, including from Trump.
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared false and misleading information that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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