The Pandemic Election: Long Lines, Confusion and Angst at Wisconsin Polls

Larry Miller

Wisconsin’s April 7 Election is in full swing, after the state Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers executive order to postpone the spring election until June 9.

Now, polling places around the state are understaffed and some suffer from long lines that wrap around entire blocks. In Milwaukee, a city of nearly 600,000 thousand people has reduced its typical 180 polling places to a mere five.

The Court’s 4-2 vote along ideological lines, ruled in favor of the Republican-controlled legislature and ordered that election be in-person, despite the looming risks due to the novel coronavirus raging through many Wisconsin communities. The order also challenges Gov. Evers emergency order that bans gatherings of 10 or more people.

“People have bled, fought, and died for the right to vote in this country,” Evers said in response to the Court’s ruling. “In this time of historic crisis, it is a shame that two branches of government in this state chose to pass the buck instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of the people we were elected to serve.”

“The state’s highest court has spoken: the governor can’t unilaterally move the date of the election,” said Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) in a joint statement.

The Court’s decision came three days after the state Legislature refused to convene for a special session called by Gov. Evers to discuss the state of the election.

Many of the voters choosing to vote in-person on Tuesday are one of thousands who have requested absentee ballots that have yet to return. On Monday, just an hour or so after the state Supreme Court blocked the postponement of the election, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that all mail-in ballots must be postmarked for April 7, after a federal circuit court judge extended the absentee deadline to April 13.

“The Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement. A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received,” said U.S. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent.

For Wisconsinsites still waiting on their absentee ballots, the orders leave them with a daunting choice to make.

Mia Noel of Milwaukee is one of those voters who chose between state sanction social distancing measures and exercising her right to vote.

“I don’t feel brave,” Noel said. “I’m sick at the idea of the decisions folks like me were forced to make and worried about a spike in cases as a result of this election. I hate all of this.”

As the city of Milwaukee grapples with becoming the epicenter of the state’s COVID-19 cases, the in-person election adds to the city’s challenges.

Black residents in Milwaukee make up nearly half of the COVID-19 cases in the city. As of Friday, April 3, Black people made up 81% of the COVID-19-related deaths, according to ProPublica.

“Minorities have historically had challenges exercising their right to vote; have now been further disenfranchised,” said state Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) in a statement.

“Specifically, in the case of the City of Milwaukee, it is a logistical and health nightmare to expect a large portion of our residents to vote at five polling locations instead of the traditional
180 polling sites.”

In contrast, the city of Madison opened up 66 polling places on Election Day. Many of Madison’s polls are offering curbside voting and protective windows for voters to engage with poll workers.

For UW-Madison Sophomore Ariana Yarn, the process was fairly simple. Yarn was given the choice to vote inside or outside the polling site. She chose the latter and was notified once her vote was processed.

To find out where you can go vote today in Madison, click here.

Header Photo Courtesy of Larry Miller

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