How Milwaukee Worked To Improve In-Person Voting After Chaotic April Election
Election Day is finally here. Thousands of people will head to the polls in Wisconsin but not as many as in previous presidential elections. That’s because a record 1.9 million Wisconsinites voted before Election Day.
Some people made plans to vote early before today after seeing what happened in April’s presidential primary.
It was the state’s first election amid the coronavirus pandemic, and concerns over COVID-19 kept many poll workers home. So many that Milwaukee could only open five larger polling places — not the typical 180.
That created long lines of voters with wait times of an hour or more in some places. While the threat of COVID is still very present, city election officials say they have enough workers to staff polling places today and 173 polling sites will be open.
“The good thing that came out of April is that people in our community saw what a shortage of poll workers looks like, right, and that really I think inspired our community members to volunteer to be election workers,” says Jonathan Zuniga, deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.
"People in our community saw what a shortage of poll workers looks like, right, and that really I think inspired our community members to volunteer to be election workers," - Jonathan Zuniga, deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.
Zuniga says the city trained nearly 2,200 new poll workers. That’s in addition to 1,000 returning poll workers. He says workers will be required to wear surgical masks and face shields and voters will be provided masks if they show up without one.
Knowing that election officials have ensured adequate staffing and safety protocols, many people are choosing to vote in-person today. But huge numbers of voters cast ballots early, by mail or through in-person absentee voting and it wasn’t just because of the coronavirus or concerns over crowds.
Amanda Buckley, who voted at Zablocki Library, says she didn’t trust the postal service to get her ballot to the city clerk’s office.
“I’ve never voted early in-person before. I have voted absentee, but I was like not, there's no way I was going to put anything in a mailbox this time,” says Buckley.
Will Savage, who voted early at Mitchell Street Library, says the reason he opted to vote in person was he didn’t want to make a mistake on his ballot.
“One concern I have for the mail-in voting, I don't think it's gonna be fraudulent; I was a little concerned about it being on time,” says Savage. “I didn’t want to mess anything up; I wanted to make sure someone knew filled it out correctly. So, I know that some of it has been someone didn’t sign right place or anything like that so that was a bit of concern. So, I much rather just make sure it counted cause I really feel like this election every voice does count, and I really want to make sure it does.”
The latter is top of mind for Ruthie Weatherly, a first-time poll worker. She’s hopeful everyone who wanted to vote this fall found a way to do so.
"I don't want anyone to stay home or to be concerned about their ability to vote because of the pandemic or because of sort of everything else that's happening in the world," - Ruthie Weatherly.
“I don't want anyone to stay home or to be concerned about their ability to vote because of the pandemic or because of sort of everything else that's happening in the world. Because it's really important for all of us to be able to sort of determine who speaks to our values and who is in office to sort of shape policy in order to you know most closely align with our own personal values and morals and I certainly don't want to have the pandemic sort of stand in the way,” says Weatherly.
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. But since Wisconsin couldn’t begin tallying absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, the results might not be released until at least Wednesday morning.