Jeramey Jannene

City Forecasts Election Results Two Days Late

180 polling sites to become no more than 12 because so few poll workers available.

By - Mar 31st, 2020 05:16 pm
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Voting Line

Voting line in 2012. Photo by Dave Reid.

The COVID-19 pandemic is obliterating any sense of normalcy with the April 7th Spring Election and Presidential Primary. In normal circumstances, approximately 100,000 voters would cast their ballots in person at the city’s 180 polling sites. The results would be known that night, often two hours or less after the polls close at 8 p.m.

Now it could be late Thursday before Milwaukee can tabulate the full election results.

Neil Albrecht, Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director, briefed the media Tuesday afternoon on what people can expect.

“We just ask the public to be as patient as possible,” said Albrecht.

Over 70,000 absentee ballots have already been requested and voters have until April 2nd to request one. Albrecht expects the number to ultimately be close to 100,000. The ballots must be received back by the city on April 7th under state law, and the city is now operating five drop sites so voters don’t need to worry about it being received in time.

Approximately 100 people are working with the election commission to assemble and mail ballots to voters. “We know that voters are very concerned with receiving their absentee ballots,” said Albrecht. He said, like other municipalities, the city temporarily ran out of ballots. A printer was two days behind on delivering envelopes.

Voters can also cast a ballot in the city’s downtown drive-thru voting site outside the Zeidler Municipal Building. “If you’re going to vote you should anticipate an approximately 45 minute wait time,” said Albrecht, though it’s been shorter on weekdays. All workers wear gloves and masks. “We would like to expand to more facilities, we just don’t have the staffing or capacity to do so.”

But the biggest issues center around election day. The city has only 400 of the 1,400 poll workers it normally uses, said Albrecht.

As a result Albrecht said the city is finalizing plans to operate far fewer sites than the normal 180. “I think I can confidently say it will be less than a dozen, probably less than 10,” said Albrecht. The City of Waukesha already scaled back its in-person voting sites from 15 to a single facility.

Nearly 60 percent of Wisconsin municipalities report being short election workers, 6,939 workers in total. A total of 111 municipalities reported to the Wisconsin Elections Commission that they do not have enough staff to operate a single polling site.

The city would normally count the mail-in ballots with several hundred workers feeding machines at a city warehouse at 1901 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. But that won’t work this time. “This cannot occur at our municipal warehouse, the space is simply too small for the amount of ballots,” said Albrecht.

Albrecht said the city is finalizing plans to use another facility. He said an 80,000-square-foot building has emerged as the front runner. But even with the bigger facility it will take days, not hours, to process the ballots and maintain social distancing guidelines.

“We anticipate it will take three days to process the volume of absentee ballots we have in the City of Milwaukee,” said Albrecht. That includes election day, the earliest date the city can legally start scanning ballots. If Albrecht is right the city couldn’t announce its full count until sometime Thursday, April 9th. Political party officials are allowed to monitor the central absentee ballot processing.

What about training more people? “At this point it’s very difficult to bring in new people given our limited training capacity and our need to move forward with getting the people assigned and trained for the election,” said Albrecht.

“It’s really city employees that have stepped up to help the election commission,” said Albrecht. Many current and former city employees can be found at polling sites on election day, but Albrecht and Mayor Tom Barrett previously reported that more than half of the city’s 1,800 registered election workers are over the age of 60.

Is In-Person Voting Safe?

Barrett was asked during a later press briefing if he’s comfortable with asking people to go to the polls. “No, not one bit,” said Barrett. “My fear is that our election in Wisconsin might be the largest event in the country in April.” He called for a mail-in only election last week.

“This fantasy that it’s an election and somebody won’t get sick. I think it’s so irresponsible for us to go down this path.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” added Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Voters can request their absentee ballot on the state’s My Vote WI website.

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