Voting is the foundation of democracy, and we must make voting easier for communities that have been historically disenfranchised. That's a firmly held belief of former executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission Neil Albrecht.
Albrecht became deputy director of the commission in 2005, later becoming executive director in 2012. He says he was inspired to serve in the roles after working at the Social Development Foundation, the largest anti-poverty organization in the state.
Albrecht announced last year that he would be retiring after 15 years on the job. He stayed on through the new year as a consultant to new Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg.
Throughout his time as executive director, Albrecht says he pushed to ensure access to the ballot.
In a city known for intense racial segregation and disparities, communities of color have been underrepresented at the polls. Albrecht says he fought to help all eligible Milwaukeeans cast their votes, by maintaining neighborhood polling places in the city instead of converting to more cost-efficient voting centers like other metropolitan areas.
“The city continued its investment in neighborhood-based voting, and I advocated for that, as did the mayor, to continue to invest those dollars so that most people within the city of Milwaukee could walk to their voting site,” he says. The city also rolled out numerous strategies to make registration easier, like voter registration kiosks in every Milwaukee Public Library. “[The kiosks] make voter registration as the first step in voting more accessible to residents of the city,” he says.
But Albrecht says that in the past decade in Wisconsin, the mantra of “fraud” in elections — even though actual fraud is negligible — has been wielded to reshape election law in Wisconsin in an unfortunate way.
“I think it is fair to say that state law is not a friend to voter access right now,” he says.
So, despite efforts like the kiosks and investing in community polling places, Albrecht says the city is now consistently lagging behind the rest of the state in voter participation. “As time was passed and changes have occurred that disproportionately impact communities in poverty, African American and Hispanic voters, we have seen that gap widen,” he explains. “I think going forward that gap will continue to grow.”
Going forward he says the city needs to continue to budget significant money to administer elections and the election commission needs to explore all avenues of guiding voters through the process of casting a ballot.
As he finishes his consulting role with the commission, Albrecht says he’ll miss training and partnering with chief inspectors and other workers each election. He says he’s especially disheartened by false accusations of election fraud because he knows how hard the job is, and most recently how hard workers labored and what risks they assumed during an election in a pandemic.
“When we are waging these false claims of fraud and irregularities and other statements that have been made and continue to be made, we are doing a tremendous discredit to the election workers that worked so hard to run the election with honesty and with transparency,” says Albrecht. “I will miss working with such an exceptional group of individuals.”