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Mayors Of Wisconsin's Largest Cities Lay Out Election Safety Plans

Marti Mikkelson
People wait in line to vote at Milwaukee's Riverside High School in the April election.

The mayors of Milwaukee and four other cities shared their election coronavirus safety plans and other logistics during a conference call on Monday. Early in-person voting has been underway for a week in Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett says the city has invested $250,000 worth of plexiglass at the polling places to help protect voters and election workers from COVID-19.

“We’ve created a marriage between our health department and our election commission. We want to have an election that’s filled with integrity, all of us are committed to that, but we also want this to be the safest election that we can have, from a health perspective,” Barrett says.

In Milwaukee, more than a dozen polling sites are open for early in-person voting, while more than 170 will be open on Election Day. Barrett says so far, more than 110,000 ballots have been cast, either by absentee or early in-person voting. He says the city is on track to surpass the total number of early votes from 2016. But he says the city faces a challenge: counting an unprecedented number of absentee ballots.

“We’re one of the few states that does not permit our clerks to count those votes early, so we will begin counting those votes at 7 a.m. on Nov. 3. Because of that challenge, what we have done is we’ve purchased 10 additional high-speed tabulators through the Center For Tech and Civic Life grant, the grant that we all receive, and that’s nearly a $1 million purchase, in order to keep pace with this extremely high volume of absentee ballots on Election Day,” he says. 

Barrett reminded voters that ballots must be returned to city clerk’s offices in Wisconsin by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Another mayor participating in the discussion was Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison. She says polling places in the city are “staffed up” so there won’t be long lines on Nov. 3. Rhodes-Conway also says election workers are prepared to deal with any voter intimidation that might occur at the polls.

“I think that the [attorney general] has been very clear that voter intimidation is illegal and can be punished as such. So, I think all of our cities are prepared to shut down any attempts at voter intimidation, certainly leading up to Election Day but particularly on Election Day, and we’ve been doing a significant amount of planning around that,” she says.

Others participating in the conference call included Racine Mayor Cory Mason, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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