While more and more aspects of daily life shut down to combat the spread of coronavirus, some things are proceeding as usual, including democracy.
As of Monday, at least 12 states and one territory have postponed their presidential primaries, but Wisconsin isn’t one of them. With the state’s April 7th elections looming, some say changes must be made.
“We are just not prepared to hold this election on April 7th the way we’ve always done elections, ”says Jerry Deschane, Executive Director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. On Monday, the league sent a letter to Governor Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald requesting “solutions” to protect the public health on election day.
One of those solutions would be granting clerks more time to count the over 550,000 absentee ballots that have been sent by mail. Under state law, those ballots cannot be counted until election day.
“Then there’s the question of poll-worker and voter safety. People have to realize that Wisconsin elections are very people-intensive. There are 20,000 poll-workers out there, and the average age of a typical poll-worker is about sixty-eight years old. These are people who really should not be in front of the public for extended periods of time,” Deschane says. “We [also] have to sanitize polling places. That’s the second challenge. [These] are all questions we’ve never had to deal with before.”
The League of Wisconsin Municipalities isn’t calling for the April 7th election to be postponed, but Debra Cronmiller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters, says her group is pushing for a delay if precautionary measures aren’t taken.
“[Milwaukee Mayor] Tom Barrett sent a letter to the Governor on Monday asking for the election to be delayed, we know there are three mayors up in the Fox Valley, from Appleton, Green Bay, and Nena, that wrote a joint-letter to the Governor asking for the election to be postponed,” Cronmiller says. ” I think that as people dig into the details, it becomes more and more clear that in order to ensure all eligible voters can cast a ballot, we can’t stay on April 7th. We have to move that date out.”
The League of Women Voters also signed onto a letter with nine other voter rights groups sent to lawmakers last week.
That coalition argues that because the challenges presented by COVID-19 are unprecedented, the State needs to take extraordinary measures to prevent disenfranchisement.
Shauntay Nelson, Wisconsin State Director of All Voting Is Local, says one of those measures would be to waive the requirement that a witness sign an absentee ballot.
“I think about people who are living alone. I have a colleague who is living alone. He does not have another adult in his home, but we have an order to stay at home,” Nelson says. “My thought process is [that] if he was a person who was sick or quarantined, then how does he cast a ballot if he needs someone basically to vouch for him. So, without trying to or being intentional, I think the process inherently disenfranchises that individual.”
Nelson also says that unusual challenges call for novel solutions.
Some of those creative measures include “drive-through” voting in Richfield, and “drive-up” or “curbside” voting for members of “high-risk” populations in Madison.
Those at the most risk, including older adults and people with chronic health conditions, can register to vote and/or cast their ballot from their vehicle.
Madison’s curbside voting began last Friday, and will be available from 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday, until April 3rd.
Following a federal judge’s order last week, voters can register online until March 30th.