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Ahead Of April 7 Election: Milwaukee Pollworker Shortages, Demand For Absentee Ballots

Chuck Quirmbach
Voting booths at a Milwaukee polling place during the February primary.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, the city of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers are among those expected to bring greater clarity this week about the status of the April 7 election. Things could change quickly, as adjustments are made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evers would like all of Wisconsin's 3.3 million registered voters to have an absentee ballot, and for those ballots to be mailed in to minimize in-person voting on April 7.  Evers is asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to formally back his plan, but GOP leaders are calling the governor "reckless."

Sunday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said many city pollworkers are backing out of showing up on the 7th.

Barrett said, during an online news briefing, that includes chief inspectors at the planned voting sites: "The chief inspectors are the individuals who when you walk in to vote, are the individuals running the site. We’ve lost a high number of chief inspectors who don’t feel it would be safe for them to work. That has caused us a huge, huge, huge problem."

"That has caused us a huge, huge, huge problem." - Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

The Milwaukee Election Commission says the city may be short more than 1,000 pollworkers.

Barrett said he also doesn’t want people who test positive for COVID-19 after the April 2 deadline to request an absentee ballot to show up at voting sites. "We do not want — and that could be dozens, if not hundreds of people — we don’t, for their own sake, and the sake of the pollworkers, and the for sake of other voters, we don’t want them to have to go vote in the polls.”

Credit Chuck Quirmbach / WUWM
A Wauwatosa polling place, during the February primary election.

But the state Republican Party says the way county clerks in Milwaukee and Dane counties have spelled things out for some absentee voters, the party is concerned that voter ID requirements will be ignored. The GOP has asked the State Supreme Court to take an immediate look, and a response from Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell is due by Monday afternoon.

Also Sunday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission held an emergency meeting to consider investigations into the two clerks. On tie votes, members shot down motions to simply tell the clerks they are wrong. Democratic appointee Mark Thomsen ridiculed the motions, saying the focus should be on the election: “We should be focusing on how to make it safe, and how to get pollworkers."

No one on the commission then proposed investigations, so the issue appears moot.

There are still several active lawsuits concerning the April 7 vote, with some groups saying absentee ballots won’t reach every registered voter and the election should be delayed.

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