John Kraft, former St. Croix County Republican Party chair, has been approved as a poll worker in Hudson despite his violent rhetoric. A City Council member who objected to his appointment was forced to apologize. (Screenshot via River Channel/YouTube)
John Kraft, former St. Croix County Republican Party chair, has been approved as a poll worker in Hudson despite his violent rhetoric. A City Council member who objected to his appointment was forced to apologize. (Screenshot via River Channel/YouTube)

The pushback against a city council member who objected shows GOP’s efforts to exert control over all aspects of elections.

The man who stepped down as chair of the St. Croix County Republican Party after urging people to “prepare for war” will get to serve as an election judge in Hudson—and a council member who criticized the move has been forced to apologize.

John Kraft resigned a year ago as local Republican Party leader amid pressure from his own political party after making a series of social media posts in which he urged people to “prepare for war” against political opponents in the months leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. Council member Joyce Hall issued an apology to Kraft during Tuesday’s City Council meeting rather than face censure. 

But one day after apologizing, Joyce told UpNorthNews  she “did the right thing” by raising questions about Kraft despite the resulting controversy. 

“[Questioning is] our job. We have the responsibility to make sure with poll workers that we are providing a safe environment for the voters,” Hall said Wednesday of her questioning whether Kraft should be allowed to work at nonpartisan election sites. “I took my responsibility seriously.”

The pushback against Hall for objecting to Kraft represents another sign of Republicans seeking more oversight of 2022 elections in Wisconsin and elsewhere across the country. Emboldened by former President Donald Trump and his repeated claims of fraud in the 2020 election—despite having no evidence—federal, state, and local Republicans have sought to sow mistrust in the election process.

Kraft’s pro-war comments on social media, including on the county Republican Party website, elicited condemnation from his local party leaders and the Wisconsin Republican Party in the days after that incident, prompting his resignation. Since then, Kraft has remained politically active in northwest Wisconsin, and in November, county Republicans forwarded his name along with others they want to see named as election workers.

Hudson City Council members debate on Dec. 6 whether to name former St. Croix County Republican Party chair John Kraft as an election worker. Kraft was subsequently approved to work at polling places despite his having resigned as county party chair last year after making references to war Wisconsin Republican Party leaders deemed inappropriate. (Screenshot via River Channel/YouTube)

At a Dec. 6 meeting at which Hudson City Council members approved election workers, Hall objected to having Kraft work at a polling place because of his controversial comments on social media. Hall’s statement prompted backlash from her council colleague, Randy Morrissette, who accused her of acting in a partisan manner. 

“This doesn’t look good, for us to cherry pick people,” Morrisette said. “It’s partisan and it’s petty. I have a challenge with your husband being on the same list, but I’m not going to object to him.”

Kraft subsequently filed an ethics complaint against Hall, and the city hired an attorney to investigate the matter. During a meeting last week to discuss Kraft’s complaint, Morrisette and Mayor Rich O’Connor criticized Hall for objecting to Kraft working at polling places, saying that action wasn’t fair to Kraft. 

RELATED: Persistent 2020 Election Lies by Local Republican Parties Pose ‘Extremely Troubling’ Issues

At the meeting, during which the council decided that Hall must apologize to Kraft or face censure, O’Connor said Hall’s white supremacy allegation against Kraft was “egregious.” Hall ran against O’Connor in the 2020 mayoral race. 

Hall was referencing a Sept. 8 city meeting at which Kraft spoke and wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with a Templar cross and chainmail pattern, according to meeting video footage. Right-wing groups have adopted the Knights Templar symbol and others as a means of espousing their viewpoints. In the investigation of his ethics complaint, Kraft told investigators he wore the cross not as a sign of violence or intolerance but of his Christian faith.

Hall apologized during Tuesday’s council meeting, saying she should not have objected to Kraft working at an election site without related, documented evidence on hand. 

“I’ve learned from this experience and in the future, I will ask to pull items of this nature for additional discussion at a future meeting,” Hall read from a prepared statement.

Kraft attended Tuesday’s council meeting and thanked the council for investigating his complaint. The previous day he posted on his Facebook page about the issue, saying he should not be disallowed as a polling place worker simply because Hall disagrees with his political stances. 

“When applying law, elected officials need to base decisions on objective facts, not on personal bias and false perceptions ,” Kraft told UpNorthNews Thursday, saying that Hall “crossed that ethics line” when she attempted to exclude him as an elections worker. 

Seeking Elections Oversight

As happened in St. Croix County, county Republican parties in parts of Wisconsin have forwarded larger numbers of party members than normal to work at polling places in this year’s elections, an apparent move to gain more oversight of the electoral process in step with Republicans’ efforts at the state and federal level to exert control over elections. Many of Wisconsin’s county Republican parties continue to discredit 2020 presidential election results through social media posts. 

In another bid to control elections, US Sen. Ron Johnson–who recently announced his re-election bid–has advocated for the Republican-controlled state Legislature to take control of federal elections. In a similar vein, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican who is running for governor this year, urged her party to “hire mercenaries” to oversee the elections process. 

One month after Biden defeated Trump, 10 Wisconsin Republicans signed an election document falsely stating that Trump had defeated Biden in Wisconsin and that the state’s 10 electoral college votes should be cast for Trump. Official election results show Biden received nearly 21,000 more votes in the state than Trump. Complaints about that action were filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. 

Two candidates seeking election as Wisconsin secretary of state, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) and Dmitry Becker of New Berlin, said they would reduce the role of the Wisconsin Elections Commission in overseeing elections. Two other candidates for that position, Jay Schroeder and Justin Schmidtka, said they would dissolve the agency entirely if elected. 

Kraft has called 2020 election results into question as well, with multiple posts on his Facebook page discrediting the results, such as a Nov. 4 post titled “Happy Election Fest Memorial Day.”

Moving Forward

The approval of Kraft as a polling place worker has prompted discomfort among council members. Following Hall’s apology Tuesday, O’Connor ruled against allowing Kraft to address the council and moved on quickly to other business. 

However, toward the end of the meeting, council member Sarah Bruch expressed support for Hall and said the investigation of the ethics complaint showed that “impartiality is lacking” in the process. 

“I’m concerned because I feel we fell short, particularly with due process [toward Hall],” Bruch said, noting she wants the process revisited at the next council meeting. 

Other supporters of Hall said her punishment was unfair. They said other council members should have asked similar questions about Kraft given what they view as his partisan, extremist views.

“State law sets forth standards for poll workers. Councilwoman Hall honored her duty to the community, followed the law and did her job,” said Sarah Yacoub, a Hudson lawyer. 

Wisconsin law notes that local governments can prevent a prospective poll worker’s approval “for good cause,” but does not define specifically what that term means.

Hall said controversy surrounding her objecting to Kraft’s appointment “has been extremely stressful” but she intends to remain on the council for the rest of her term and is undecided about seeking re-election. She worries Kraft’s complaint could spur more of them amid the current politically charged climate. 

Hall said she hopes to move beyond the issue and believes the council can focus on its normal city business going forward. To improve council relations, she said she supports a proposal to have a mediator train council members to improve their communications. 

“Hudson has so much to offer, and I would much rather concentrate on my job of making it even better,” she said.