Spring election continued on despite coronavirus

April 9, 2020

Photo by Yvonne Kemp

Polls were open across Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, an election day unlike any other.

Some voters in Milwaukee were being told to expect to wait up to 2 1/2 hours to cast their ballots.

Cities have consolidated the number of polling sites due to a shortage of workers willing to interact with the public due to the coronavirus.

Lines at five polling locations snaked around the block. Some brought their own pens. Other brought their own wipes.

Milwaukee normally has 180 polling places.

“I was one of the people who applied three weeks ago for an absentee ballot, and it did not arrive. So I’m here, doing this,” voter April McCaskill said.

“Because I wanted to vote, I wouldn’t miss it. I wouldn’t have missed this. I want to vote. I’m a voter,” Rose Redmon said.

There’s only one polling location in Waukesha.

Some voters wore masks and stood feet apart as they lined up to cast their ballots.

Poll workers around the state said they were fearful about catching and spreading the coronavirus as thousands turned out despite a stay-athome order.

In addition to the presidential primary, thousands of local officials are on the ballot.

There is also a state Supreme Court race.

Results aren’t planned to be released until next Monday.

Gov. Tony Evers tried to stop in-person voting with an order Monday, April 6, 2020, but the state Supreme Court ruled it must go on.

“Although I remain deeply concerned about the public health implications of voting in-person today, I am overwhelmed by the bravery, resilience, and heroism of those who are defending our democracy by showing up to vote, working the polls, and reporting on this election,” Evers said. “Thank you for giving our state something to be proud of today. Please stay as safe as possible, Wisconsin.”

Thousands of poll workers said they would not work, resulting in more than 2,000 National Guard troops being called on to fill in the gaps.

As of midday Tuesday, turnout had been robust.

The executive director of the city of Milwaukee’s election commission said poll workers are the true heroes of the state’s decision to move forward with an election.

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city’s election commission, said there were 80 to 100 poll workers at each site, including about 30 National Guard members.

Workers were taking safety precautions.

Albrecht called the wait times unfortunate.

He also said the election has been filled with injustices.

Among them, his office has gotten numerous calls from people who requested an absentee ballot but didn’t get one.

He said for those people, their only option was to vote in person.

“The Election Commission is not allowed to reissue a ballot after the Friday deadline to apply for that ballot,” a city spokeswoman said.

“Voters that never received an absentee ballot in the mail cannot ask that the Election Commission email them the ballot today. If you did not receive your absentee ballot, the only voting option that remains is to go to a voting center today.”

Albrecht said because of the decision by the Legislature and the courts to move forward with an election, some members of the public who have voted consistently for 40 years or more are now faced with making a decision to skip the election and not cast a ballot.

“We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported it had received no reports of polling places being unable to open as planned.

As of Tuesday, nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots had been sent to voters across the state.

But more than 408,000 still had not been returned.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was wearing protective gloves, a mask and gown while volunteering at a polling place in Burlington.

He said the wait time there was about 30 minutes.