In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 through the community, Public Health Madison & Dane County banned all gatherings with more than 50 people yesterday.
And today, Governor Tony Evers issued a mandate that would apply such a ban statewide beginning at 12:01 a.m. tonight.
With the April 7th presidential primary only three weeks away, the Wisconsin Elections Commission is working to protect the public health by urging voters to vote by absentee ballot.
“The critical thing for that is, for people who are not currently registered, or who are registered but who have moved since and need to re-register, there is a deadline for open registration on Wednesday, March 18th,” says Commission spokesperson Reid Magney. “If you need to register to vote for April 7th, you need to act now.”
Magney also says that residents with a Wisconsin driver’s license or another state-issued ID card can register to vote and request an absentee ballot by mail at the myvote.wi.gov website.
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, who has been a poll worker in Madison since 2012, thinks the Commission should take even greater measures to ensure voter turnout isn’t diminished.
“One thing the clerk could consider, or the elections board could even order, would be to simply send everyone an absentee ballot, [without requiring voters] to vote absentee” says Spitzer-Resnick. “I think that would probably greatly increase the chances that people will vote absentee and even vote at all.”
As the State pushes for voters to vote absentee, municipalities are seeing absentee voting records shattered. Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, for example, says her office has issued over 13,600 absentee ballots so far.
“So, of that 13,609, we had 743 people vote absentee right in our office,” says Witzel-Behl. “So, we are on track to set a record for the most absentee ballots that we’ve ever sent out via mail for an election. We’re about to surpass the number that we issued by mail for the November 2008 Presidential election.”
The City Clerk’s office extended its hours last Thursday in an effort to get UW-Madison students to vote before leaving campus. Those hours, which now last from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., will extend throughout this week.
Witzel-Behl also says that the City has seen some poll workers signed up to work next month drop out.
“What we’re doing right now in Madison is encouraging city employees to sign up to work at the polls on election day, and we’re in the process of figuring out whether we need anybody additional or whether we’re going to be OK there,” Witzel-Behl says.
While elections officials are preparing for the state primary to occur as usual, some Wisconsin residents are calling for the State to postpone the elections.
Richard McGowan, a doctor with St. Mary’s, even started a change.org petition to postpone April’s election.
“People’s lives are being disrupted by this virus, or at least [by] concern for this virus, and we don’t know what the full extent of it will be here in the state of Wisconsin,” McGowan says. “But, we want to give [potential voters] the chance to be able to address the virus and to prepare for it, but also exercise their democratic right to vote.”
But, during a media briefing earlier today, Governor Tony Evers said that the State is not considering delaying the April presidential primary at this time.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure the people of Wisconsin are safe. If there are ways we need to make that happen on the day of [the] election we’ll be looking at that, but at this time we’re trying to get as many people [as we can] to vote early and or vote absentee,” Evers says.
During that briefing, the Trump administration released new guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, including recommendations against gatherings of more than ten people.
But, Governor Tony Evers said that President Trump’s recommendations did not affect Wisconsin’s mandate.
Three other states, Georgia, Louisiana, and Kentucky have rescheduled their presidential primaries to dates in May and June.