Election and other government officials in Milwaukee indicated Sunday that the April 7 presidential primary and spring election are currently going forward in Wisconsin.
Mayor Tom Barrett says officials are planning around the coronavirus pandemic and have several changes already in place. He says this election is about “preparedness." He wants people to know where and how to vote while minimizing their exposure to coronavirus.
Call for young poll workers
One-half of Milwaukee's election workers are over 60, says Barrett. Older adults are at high-risk for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
He says the city currently needs about 1,800 poll workers — and older workers may be more reluctant to stay home if no one's taking their place. With schools closed, Barrett says this is an excellent opportunity for high school and college students to be poll workers.
"We need you to do more than vote this election, we need you to be election workers," says Barrett.
Poll workers on April 7 will be paid $130 for the day. If you're interested, you can apply online.
Officials suggest voting early or absentee
To avoid crowds, the mayor suggests voting this week or by absentee. Monday is the first day for early voting in Milwaukee.
There is expanded early voting at the Zeidler Municipal Building in downtown, the Midtown Center near Capitol Drive, and the Zablocki Library on the near south side. The sites have extended hours, including evenings and weekends.
Barrett says absentee ballots are the best option for anyone at high risk from exposure to the coronavirus — people over 60 and those with underlying conditions.
Here's information on voting absentee:
- You need to be a registered voter. The last day to register to vote, online or by mail, is Wednesday. After that, you’ll need to register at an early voting location or on Election Day.
- Wisconsin voters don't need a reason or excuse, such as being out of town on Election Day, to vote absentee.
- Registered voters can request absentee ballots, online or by mail, by 5 p.m. on April 2.
- Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht expects 50,000-60,000 people to vote absentee in the city of Milwaukee this election — a 500% increase over the number usually seen in a presidential election.
In the 2016 presidential election, Albrecht says there were 10,000 absentee ballots submitted. For the April 7 primary, the city is already up to 12,000 absentee requests — with 1,000 requests per day. Given what he’s heard from colleagues, Albrecht believes that’s indicative of what municipalities around Wisconsin are experiencing.
Despite the coronavirus, Albrecht projects the same number of total votes will come in.
Polling site changes
People with polling site changes will receive cards in the mail notifying them of the new site. But Barrett suggests voters confirm their election site the week before the election.
The Milwaukee Election Commission has relocated voting away from:
- Wilson Commons (on the south side) to nearby Wilson Park Pavilion.
- UWM Sandberg Hall has been relocated to Plymouth Church.
There are still challenges
Currently, absentee ballots are counted at a central location by several hundred people. That’s a challenge in an ordinary situation. But during the current coronavirus pandemic, Barrett says it's more problematic to bring all of those people together.
“If the whole goal is not huge gatherings of people, then let's avoid huge gatherings of people,” he says. And he’s relayed that concern to the Wisconsin governor and legislative leaders.
Some communities have ballots counted at polling places, which is something Barrett says Milwaukee may need to move back to for the April 7 election.
The second challenge is the tight deadline for registering online or by mail, which is Wednesday. Barrett worries that someone who shows symptoms for COVID-19 will have to register in-person after that date in order to vote.
But Albrecht says, "We cannot let real concern, or even fear or panic, prevent our residents from voting in this election."
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