Due to the ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, fourteen states and one U.S. territory have made changes to their upcoming elections, either switching to mail-only voting or postponing them entirely. Wisconsin is not among them.
The state Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee have sued the state to postpone the upcoming April 7th election, but federal Judge William Conley said yesterday he believes only Governor Tony Evers or the state Legislature could do so.
In a press release yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed that neither Evers nor “a single Democratic legislator” have introduced a bill to move the election date, but Evers says he is prohibited by state law from doing so.
Instead, Governor Tony Evers has called upon the Legislature to take bipartisan action to provide absentee ballots to all registered voters, and to give municipal clerks more time to count what is expected to be a massive number of mail-in ballots.
“This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue, this is an issue of Democracy,” Evers says. “I don’t care who gets the credit, I just want to make sure that everyone has a chance to cast their ballot this April.”
Evers will also use members of the Wisconsin National Guard to help fill the need for poll workers.
Captain Joe Trovato, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin National Guard, says personnel won’t be taking over as chief inspectors .
“Our personnel will serve solely in the role of a traditional poll worker,” Trovato says. “We have National Guard citizen soldiers and airmen in pretty much every community in Wisconsin, certainly every county in Wisconsin, and in this case they would actually serve as a poll worker in the county they reside in in accordance with state law. So, they will receive the same training and they’ll have the same expectations of a traditional poll worker. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Trovato says that the Guard is still working with state and local elections officials to determine how many personnel will be needed, and that personnel will report to local clerks to begin their training on Monday.
While poll workers in Madison can either volunteer or elect to be paid for their work, Trovato says Guard members will be compensated as part of their military orders, not by municipalities.
Even with the help of the Guard, Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl says more poll workers are needed.
“As of yesterday we’ve had over 1,100 people cancel their poll worker shifts,” Witzel-Behl says. “We’ve put out a call to city employees to sign up as poll workers, we’ve tried to recruit the people we license as bartenders, and put out a call to people who are part of the [Wisconsin] Restaurant Association to see if any of them would be willing to serve as poll workers.”
Those interested in becoming a poll worker, can apply at cityofmadison.com/eo. Accepted applicants will be required to watch a recorded webinar before they’re able to work, and new workers will be “paired” with experienced workers while practicing social distancing.
As of yesterday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission says that fewer than 390,000 ballots out of the over one million issued statewide have been returned to clerks.
Despite issuing a record number of absentee ballots, Witzel-Behl says her office hasn’t seen similar numbers being returned.
“We have not been receiving as many ballots as back by this point as we would have expected, and we’ve heard that it can take the post office up to one week to deliver an absentee ballot,” Witzel-Behl says. “So, if you haven’t mailed back your ballot yet, you’re in danger of it not arriving in time to be counted next week.”
To make sure absentee ballots are counted, voters are encouraged to drop off ballots in the books drops of Central, Pinney, and Sequoya libraries from now until noon on Tuesday. City Clerk’s Office staff members will collect ballots daily, and residents are asked to not drop any books or other library materials into these drops so as to not damage ballots.
All due dates will be extended, and no library fines will be charged.
Yesterday, the Clerk’s Office released a new map of polling sites around Madison. Listeners can find their polling location by going to myvote.wi.gov or cityofmadison.com/wheredoivote.
The WEC will hold a closed, emergency teleconference meeting tonight at 8pm.