Kelli Larson works for the State of Wisconsin as a tax analyst. Yesterday, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Larson served as a poll worker for the first time.
According to the Madison Clerk’s Office, the city had about 1,400 workers show up yesterday, while more than 1,700 decided not to work due to health and safety concerns. Larson says she hesitated about working at Sequoya Library, but is glad that she was able to help.
“I don’t think people should ever be put in the position of having to choose their health over voting, but that is the place we found ourselves in yesterday,” Larson says. “So, I was happy to be able to be there for people who made that decision.”
Allison Markoski, also a news volunteer at WORT, says she didn’t feel safe enough to work at a polling site, but she did volunteer to staff a Voter Assistance Hotline to answer questions about where and how residents could vote.
“I was on the phone the entire shift yesterday. We volunteers log every call, and it was so quick that the calls were coming in that I was logging the notes while I answered the next call,” Markoski says.
Markoski says many callers were confused and disappointed.
“[There was] a lot of confusion, a lot of disappointment that this is where things lie, that we were having an election, and that people were having to choose between their health and having their voice being heard. That’s a really difficult choice to ask people to make,” Markoski says.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also worked during yesterday’s election, serving as an election inspector in Burlington. Vos told FOX6 News that the election had to happen.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that, no matter what happens with the pandemic, we have to show that we can still have democracy, and that’s why we wanted to do it safely,” Vos said.
“I think [the election] absolutely should not have taken place. I think [holding it] is voter disenfranchisement at its finest,” Larson says.
According to Larson, Madison poll workers were provided face shields, masks, sanitizer, and plexiglass barriers to separate voters from those handling poll books and ballots. But, Larson adds that she was frustrated seeing Speaker Vos wear personal protective equipment, or PPE, including what appears to be a surgical gown and gloves, yesterday.
“To me, that’s an absolute insult to those of us who had to show up and wrap ourselves in scarves or raincoats, or whatever [else],” Larson says.
Speaker Vos told The Journal Times yesterday, while draped in PPE, that it was mandatory for workers at the Burlington site to wear the equipment, and that it was “incredibly” safe to vote in-person.
During a media briefing today, Wisconsin Elections Commission Interim Administrator Meagan Wolfe couldn’t say why workers in Burlington had different equipment from those in Madison.
“In terms of any kind of discrepancy, I cannot answer that,” Wolfe says. “Individual municipalities have [their own] resources available to them. We sent everyone the same supplies around the state from the State’s resources that we were able to procure. If they had other supplies at their disposal they were able to use those, but we supplied the same things to everyone.”
Wolfe also said some counties, including Dane County, mistakenly received N95 respirators in their initial shipment of PPE, but that those respirators were swapped out for standard masks.
In a statement released last night, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway described holding the election yesterday as a “travesty.” The mayor also said, “Everyone should pay attention to what has happened in Wisconsin and make sure that this outrageous abuse does not become standard practice come November.”
Ballots received by clerks before 4pm next Monday will still be counted as long as they were postmarked by yesterday. The Board of Canvassers will then convene on April 13th to count the ballots and to certify the election.