Jeramey Jannene

Please Vote Absentee In Spring Election

Mayor Barrett urges voters to use mail-in ballots, seeks legislative changes to improve access, safety.

By - Mar 16th, 2020 12:49 pm
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I Voted.

I Voted.

With a global pandemic shuttering all large public gatherings, the April 7th Spring Election presents a unique challenge for Wisconsin. How to allow voters to safely cast their votes without exposing themselves and poll workers to coronavirus?

“First are foremost, we want residents to assert their constitutional right to vote,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in a Sunday afternoon press conference. “I think the real key here is to have more people vote absentee.”

Over 10,000 people voted by mail in Milwaukee in the 2016 Presidential Election. But officials are expecting a substantial increase this spring. Over 12,000 people have requested their ballot to be issued by mail already. “We are receiving an average of 1,000 requests a day,” said Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht.

Albrecht and Barrett expect the total number of absentee ballot requests to end up exponentially higher. The city is anticipating at least 50,000 mail-in ballots. The Milwaukee Election Commission is forecasting over 160,000 votes being cast in the election. It’s a big one: the ballot includes a Presidential Primary as well as races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, mayor, county executive, Circuit Court, Common Council, and Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

“This option is no doubt the best option for those at high risk,” said Barrett.

Voters already registered at their current address can request a ballot by mail by visiting the My Vote WI website. Ballots must be requested by registered voters by April 2nd at 5:00 p.m. and received back by the municipality by April 7th. The city will begin mailing ballots to those that request them this week.

Voters can register online or by-mail through March 18th. Voters not registered by March 18th will not be able to vote absentee.

Election Challenges

The volume of absentee ballots and election timeline are expected to cause challenges for the city. Barrett said he has had conversations with Governor Tony Evers‘ office, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on legislative changes that could ensure people can vote in a safe manner and that votes are counted in a timely manner.

Under current law, mail-in votes cannot be counted until polls open on election day. Further complicating the matter, the city relies on a group of “several hundred” employees, said Albrecht, to process the mail-in ballots at a central city warehouse at 1901 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Barrett and Albrecht would like to avoid gathering hundreds of people in a warehouse to process ballots.

Albrecht and Milwaukee County Clerk George L. Christenson warned that as it currently stands election results would likely be delayed as the city works to count the ballots. “This is a challenge in an ordinary election,” said Barrett. The mayor added that switching to the system of counting the absentee ballots at each polling place, as the city did prior to 2008, was a “challenge” given the tight timeline.

The city would also like the state to revert to a pre-2016 law where ballots postmarked by election day, instead of received, are accepted.

Another looming issue is the cut-off for online and mail-in voter registration and absentee requests. If an individual isn’t registered by March 18th they will need to register and vote in person, which could be a public health issue if the individual is quarantined or falls ill between the 18th and election day. The city would like the online and mail-in registration deadline extended to April 2nd.

In-person registration cuts off on April 3rd (reopening election day at the polls), but the city intends to offer early voting through April 5th to reduce crowds at the polls. The city is requesting the in-person registration date be extended until the 5th.

Will the city get the help? “I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” said Barrett. “I have explained to them that’s a challenge we have.”

Voters looking for more information can call the Milwaukee County hotline at 414-278-VOTE (8683).

The city is also looking for poll workers. Over 50 percent of the 1,800 poll workers are over the age 60 and city officials would like them not to work during the April election. For more information, see our coverage from Sunday.

Early Voting Starts Today

If you’re not comfortable voting by mail, early voting is underway at three sites.

Voters can cast ballots and register from 8 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at either the Zeidler Municipal Building (841 N. Broadway), Midtown Center (5700 W. Capitol Dr.) or Zablocki Library (3501 W. Oklahoma Ave.). Weekend voting starts Saturday, March 28th and runs from 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Early voting ends April 5th.

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