Rebecca Kleefisch contends Madison is using a vaccine mandate to keep Republicans from serving as poll workers

MADISON – Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch suggested Wednesday that a rule requiring poll workers in Madison to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is an attempt to block Republicans from witnessing potential election fraud rather than a way to protect the health of voters.

Kleefisch, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in next year's election, made the claim on Twitter a month after telling a crowd Republicans need to recruit more poll workers and "hire mercenaries" to help them win races.

Her tweet acknowledged Republicans are less likely to get vaccinated than others and implied Madison officials were trying to hide how they run elections.

Observers from both parties have long had an opportunity across the state to watch voting processes. Last year, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stood a few feet from poll workers as they conducted a recount of the presidential election.

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"Interesting how after we've been making a big push to get more conservatives working polls, Madison is now requiring all poll workers to be vaccinated," Kleefisch tweeted. "Do you think they are trying to keep you from seeing what goes on behind the scenes?"

Kleefisch did not agree to an interview Wednesday through a spokesman.

Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Madison Democrat who sits on the Assembly Elections Committee, said she was pleased to see her city is adopting a policy that will create a safer environment for voters. She said Kleefisch's suggestion of fraud was baseless and a sign she embraces conspiracy theories.

"The fact that she is choosing this as her battle I think shows she is every bit as out of touch now as she was when she was lieutenant governor," Subeck said. "This sounds like someone who is trying to rile up the extremes of her party in a primary than somebody who wants to govern for all the people of the state."

Madison officials sent poll workers a memo Monday telling them they must be vaccinated to perform their duties for future elections. City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said the policy was set by the city's human resources department.

Under Wisconsin law, clerks first select poll workers using lists supplied by political parties. The parties typically do not provide enough names and when that happens clerks can look elsewhere to fill their ranks.

In Madison, the parties must submit their lists to Witzel-Behl by the end of the month, she said.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she was seeking to keep city workers and voters healthy.

"Unlike the former Lt. Gov., we have been working non-stop since the early days of the pandemic to keep everyone safe from this deadly disease and to facilitate safe voting practices for all," she said in a written statement.

Kleefisch and other Republicans over the last year have pushed for more Republicans to sign up as poll workers. At an event in Door County last month, Kleefisch told supporters Republicans need more "people who actually check the photo ID and the people who rip open the absentee ballots."

At the same event, Kleefisch said Republicans need to "hire mercenaries" to work on campaigns instead of relying on "sweet little volunteers." She also said Republicans need to engage in "ballot harvesting," a term Republicans often use disparagingly to describe having groups pick up absentee ballots for voters and deliver them to clerks' offices.

With her tweet, Kleefisch argued Republicans would be less likely to sign up as poll workers in Dane County because of the vaccine requirement. An August poll by Marquette University Law School found 87% of Democrats were vaccinated while just 45% of Republicans were.

Republicans running to challenge Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul also spoke out against Madison's vaccine policy.

"Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and any qualified person should be able to serve as a poll worker or election official without restriction," Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney tweeted.

Former Rep. Adam Jarchow said he would stop Madison's vaccine policy for poll workers if he were attorney general.

"One of the most important jobs of the Attorney General is ensuring the integrity of our elections," he tweeted.

Democratic Rep. Mark Spreitzer of Beloit said Republicans should not have trouble finding poll workers in Madison because so many people have gotten vaccinations. He said they were trying to stir up controversy about an effort to protect the health of voters.

"Certainly Madison is always a favorite punching bag for Republicans, so I think this is red meat for the base," said Spreitzer, who sits on the Assembly Elections Committee.

Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

Contact Patrick Marley at Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Kleefisch says vaccine rule will stop Republicans from working polls