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Wisconsin Election: Voters File Lawsuit In Advance Of April 7 Election Results

Teran Powell
Voters line up Tuesday morning at Washington High School on Sherman Boulevard.

Wisconsin's April 7 spring election and presidential primary included races for Wisconsin Supreme Court, Milwaukee mayor, and Milwaukee County executive. Despite effort's from Gov. Tony Evers to move the election due to coronavirus concerns, the state Supreme Court ordered it to move forward. 

Results are being announced on April 13. You will find them here.

Here are election updates from southeastern Wisconsin polling sites and beyond.

April 13, 5:10 p.m.: Evers Says April 7 Election Mess Could've Been Avoided, Will Be Resolved In Court

Gov. Tony Evers says Wisconsin's April 7 in-person election process was a mess that could have been avoided. He made the comment Monday after being pressed by reporters during a state briefing about COVID-19.

Evers and other Democrat leaders hoped to extend the time absentee ballots could be counted. Then, in a last-minute appeal to the state Supreme Court, they tried to delay the election until June 10. Both strategies failed hours before polling stations were set to open.

Some Wisconsin voters filed a lawsuit after they were unable to vote in the election. And there were reports of missing absentee ballots.

“At the end of the day, this will be resolved in court and then we can move on,” Evers said. “What we do need to do going forward is, with the benefit of more time, we can continue to encourage people to vote by mail and make sure that we are able to get ballots out to people in time, so they can get them back on time. It’s pretty simple.”

-Susan Bence

April 13, 12:57 pm.: Voters File Lawsuit In Advance Of April 7 Election Results

Fourteen Milwaukee-area votersfiled a federal lawsuit Monday after they were unable to vote in last week’s Wisconsin presidential primary and spring election.

According to a press release, the plaintiffs were concerned about the dangers of COVID-19 “due to underlying health conditions or generally, [they] did not receive requested absentee ballots in time to vote, or submitted ballots that were not counted.”

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin against Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robein Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The lawsuit also names the state, each legislative body and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which “had no choice but to implement this illegal scheme, and would be called upon to implement the remedies requested by plaintiffs,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs say they chose to take legal action April 13 before election officials are slated to announce the April 7 election results.

-Susan Bence

April 13, 7:25 a.m.: Milwaukee Election Commission Zoom Meeting Hacked

A Zoom meeting of the City Of Milwaukee Board of Election Commissioners was hacked Sunday afternoon, showing violent and pornographic images to dozens of participants.

Election commissioners were meeting to go over guidelines from the Wisconsin Election Commission regarding absentee ballots from Wisconsin's April 7 election, but didn't get that far. Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Neil Albrecht was in the middle of explaining how many absentee ballots had been received and post-marked prior to, and after election day last Tuesday, when the public meeting was hacked by an unknown source.

Among the images shown were what appeared to be ISIS fighters and racial slurs written across a screen showing pornography.

In a statement from Albrecht, he said, "I thought the hacking of the meeting was a despicable act, but also somewhat consistent with the unfortunate chaos of this particular election. My sincere apologies to any person that was participating in the meeting and had to witness the offensive materials presented by the hacker."

-Teran Powell

April 9, 7:46 p.m.: Baldwin, Johnson Call For Missing Absentee Ballot Investigation

Wisconsin's two senators are calling for a bipartisan investigation into missing absentee voter ballots. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Ron Johnson are urging the inspector general of the postal service to investigate reports of irregularities involving absentee ballots.

According to the account of a state legislator, tubs of absentee ballots were discovered in the postal service’s processing center after polls closed on Tuesday. 

Over 1 million Wisconsin voters requested absentee ballots. Many did so to avoid voting in person and risking exposure to COVID-19. Scores of ballots never made it to mailboxes before Election Day, forcing many voters to choose between going to the polls or staying home.

-Angelina Mosher Salazar

April 8, 4 p.m.: Milwaukee Election Head Wants Probe Into Missing Absentee Ballots

The head of elections in Milwaukee is seeking a U.S. Postal Service Investigation into what happened to missing absentee ballots that did not make it to voters before Tuesday's election.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said Wednesday that he wants the investigation to focus on ballots that were issued and mailed around March 22 and March 23.

Many voters who showed up at one of the city's five polling places Tuesday said they were forced to come out after absentee ballots they requested never arrived. The state Elections Commission was also working with the Postal Service on reports of undelivered ballots in Oshkosh and Appleton and elsewhere.

The U.S. Postal Service didn’t immediately respond to a call Wednesday seeking comment.

Albrecht also addressed another problem: absentee ballots that were mailed in but are missing postmarks.

"I think where that will become a significant issue is ballots received today that were clearly mailed prior to, or yesterday," he says. "Do we have the ability to count those ballots? Or will it be a literal interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that the ballot must have the April 7 postmark on it?”

Albrecht  is referring to the Supreme Court decision that allows ballots to be counted if they arrive in local clerks' offices by 4 p.m. April 13, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

-Associated Press, Olivia Richardson

April 8, 7:17 a.m.: Milwaukee Election Commission Releases Voting Numbers

As of 8:20 p.m. Tuesday, the Milwaukee Election Commission says 18,803 people cast ballots in the city of Milwaukee on election day.

It is also reporting that 58% of issued absentee ballots have been returned — 56,489 returned from the 96,712 issued.

-Michelle Maternowski

April 7, 7:44 p.m.: Milwaukee Election Chief Estimates  22,000 People Voted In-Person

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said during a media briefing an hour before polls closed that he thinks about 22,000 people have turned out to vote in today’s highly unusual election.

Because of a severe poll worker shortage, Milwaukee consolidated voting sites from 180 to just five. There were long lines to vote, especially at Riverside High School, which Albrecht said was by far the busiest of the five sites.

The city is waiting to find out how many of the about 97,000 absentee ballots it issued will be returned. Albrecht said as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, there was a 55-60% return rate. “Obviously I’d like to see that number increase,” he said, noting that in previous elections, the absentee ballot return rate has been closer to 90%.

Absentee ballots need to be postmarked or returned in-person on April 7, but the results will not be tallied until April 13.

Throughout the day, Albrecht has heaped praise on the poll workers and Wisconsin National Guard members who have made in-person voting possible. He also commended residents who waited in lines to vote despite the risks to their health during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it speaks well to the dedication of Milwaukee’s residents to really overcome some significant barriers,” Albrecht said. “And for those at high-risk, to even risk their health to be able to participate in this very important election.”

Those who are in line by 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

- Emily Files

April 7, 4:48 p.m.: Karofksy Rips Supreme Court Election Decision

Wisconsin state Supreme Court hopeful Jill Karofsky blasted the justices Tuesday for ordering the state's spring election to move ahead during the coronavirus pandemic.

Karofsky is trying to unseat incumbent Justice Dan Kelly, who is part of the Supreme Court's five-person conservative majority. The race is officially nonpartisan, but Democrats back Karofsky and Republicans support Kelly.

Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order Monday postponing in-person voting to June but the Supreme Court struck it down 4-2 in a matter of hours. Kelly recused himself.

Karofsky told reporters Tuesday that the court's decision is another example of how the court is broken. She said there's no way the justices had time to truly analyze Evers' order and the extent of his emergency powers under state law before they issued their decision. That creates the perception that the court reached the decision ahead of time.

Kelly spent Tuesday sending out tweets asking people to vote.

Karofksy has accused Kelly of being corrupt because he constantly sides with conservative groups when they come before the court. Karofsky herself has accepted $1.3 million from the state Democratic Party. She said Tuesday that if she gets on the court she would recuse herself from any litigation involving the state Democratic Party. She also said that she would recuse herself from any challenge to the election's validity if the case directly impacts her.

-Associated Press

April 7, 3:42 p.m.: Milwaukee Has Fewer Polling Locations Than Neighbors Due To Losing More Workers, Election Official Says 

Milwaukee voters seem to be waiting between 30 and 60 minutes to cast their ballots, city election commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht explained during a 3 p.m. call. The city has only five polling locations open compared to the usual 180, due to election workers dropping out over COVID-19 concerns.

The locations are: Riverside University High School, Marshall High School, Washington High School, Hamilton High School, and South Division High School.

Albrecht says wait times are shortest at South Division and longest at Riverside. He says more staff are being sent to Riverside to try to help move things along.

Why does Milwaukee only have only five voting stations open compared to Madison’s 66? Albrecht attributes it to Milwaukee losing a greater number of election workers in recent weeks. Wisconsin’s coronavirus outbreak has hit Milwaukee especially hard.

“I believe that we lost a more significant percentage of election workers than Madison,” Albrecht says. “I think in this case our numbers were really decimated by the growing public concern about the escalating rates of infection we were seeing in this city.”

-Emily Files

April 7, 2:31 p.m.: Did You Submit Your Absentee Ballot Without A Witness Signature? It Won't Count

Voters who mailed in absentee ballots under the premise that witness signatures could be replaced by a written statement expressing their inability to coxllect a witness won't have a vote this election.

Here's what happened: On April 2, U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled that Wisconsin voters could submit a statement saying they're unable to safely obtain a witness certification due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the next day, a federal appeals court overruled him, saying that absentee ballots in the April 7 election will not be counted if they don’t have a witness signature on the envelope.

Riley Willman, elections specialist at the Wisconsin Elections Commission, says that anyone who sent in their ballots under the notion that they could supply a statement in lieu of a witness signature will not have their ballots counted. 

He also says they shouldn't go to a polling site to cast their ballot because it will not be counted.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht says that as of Tuesday afternoon, the city had received 750 absentee ballots without a witness signature. 

-Olivia Richardson, Lauren Sigfusson

April 7, 12:12 p.m.: Poll Workers Called Heroes Of Wisconsin Election

Poll workers are the true heroes of Wisconsin's decision to move forward with an election, says the executive director of the city of Milwaukee's election commission.

The city of Milwaukee could only operate five polling sites for Tuesday's primary, down from its usual number of roughly 180, due to the coronavirus. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city’s election commission, says Tuesday the five sites opened on time or within minutes of on time, and they were sufficiently staffed.

He says there were 80 to 100 poll workers at each site, and about 30 National Guard members at each location. Workers were taking safety precautions.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Plexiglass shields separate voters from poll workers at Muellner Building in Wauwatosa on Tuesday.

As of midday Tuesday, turnout had been robust — most sites are reporting wait times ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Lines stretched for several blocks as workers maintained social distancing between voters.

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. For those people, he says their only option was to vote in person.

He says 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,” Albrecht said.

-Associated Press, Lauren Sigfusson

April 7, 11:08 a.m.: Some Voters Waiting Hours In Lines

Some voters were waiting more than two hours in lines at one of Milwaukee's five polling places that are open for the state's presidential primary and spring general election.

Lines were also reported at other locations across the state on Tuesday as safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were causing delays.

Voter Shannon Ochoa, from Milwaukee, said she waited more than two hours to vote at a Milwaukee high school. The line snaked around several city blocks.

In the western Wisconsin village of Holmen, voter Christopher Sullivan said he was “ashamed to be from Wisconsin today” given the voting conditions. He described police limiting the number of people who could enter the village office, a makeshift sink where he had to wash his hands and masked poll workers.

“I have voted many times in my life [and at this location] and have never experienced something so eerie,” Sullivan said. “Because it is this unsafe to vote, maybe we should have postponed the election or done mail-in ballots.”

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.

-Associated Press

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