Jeramey Jannene

City Holds Emergency Council Meeting To Approve Voting Sites, Why?

Move expands early voting access from three to 16 sites.

By - Jun 11th, 2020 11:57 pm
A voter waiting in line at Washington High School holds a sign that says "this is ridiculous." Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A voter waiting in line at Washington High School with a sign that says “this is ridiculous” in April 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

In an effort to ensure access to early voting sites for the August and November elections, the Milwaukee Common Council called a special meeting 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night with less than three hours notice.

Why the urgency for a matter the council doesn’t even ordinarily approve? State statute 6.855 provides a hint. “An election by a governing body to designate an alternate site under this section shall be made no fewer than 14 days prior to the time that absentee ballots are available for the primary,” reads the statute in part.

The Milwaukee Election Commission is scheduled to issue absentee ballots the first absentee ballots for the August 11th primary in 14 days, June 25th.

The late-night move, which few council members want to discuss the “why” of publicly, will ward off any legal challenges.

“I move approval,” said sponsor Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. It was the lone comment on the matter.

The meeting lasted less than four minutes, much of which was spent taking a roll call for the virtual meeting.

The council, for which 10 of 15 members were present, quickly voted to unanimously approve the measure.

In a text message to Urban Milwaukee, Dimitrijevic said the move was needed to satisfy a deadline for early voting locations.

And outside of the mechanics of a middle-of-the-night meeting, there will now be substantially more early voting sites. The council approved 16 sites to be used, up from three in the April election. Eight were used in November 2018.

There will now be an early voting site in virtually every aldermanic district. “Our goal is to have them evenly distributed throughout the city so that they’re accessible to everyone,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in a Thursday afternoon press briefing. Some, including the site at Midtown Center, straddle the border between districts. Many will be at libraries.

On Thursday afternoon Barrett said he expected the council to take up the matter at its Tuesday meeting, but just after 9:00 p.m. the City Clerk announced a special meeting for 11:30 p.m.

“As we all know the April election was such a fiasco here in the city of Milwaukee when we had the voting during the most intense time of the pandemic,” said Barrett.

It’s the second voting access bill sponsored by Dimitrijevic. The newly-elected council member introduced a proposal as her first piece of legislation that will result in the city mailing an absentee ballot request to the approximately 296,000 registered voters. It was unanimously approved.

Over 18,800 Milwaukeeans cast ballots in person on April 7th, some waiting over two hours in line. “The world watched as Milwaukee voters and poll workers wore masks and practiced social distancing to protect the health of our City for an in-person vote that was dangerous, ill-advised and – as one voter noted in a now viral protest sign – ridiculous,” said Dimitrijevic in April. Approximately 76,000 Milwaukeeans voted absentee in the last election, including those that voted early.

“It’s very, very important for the City of Milwaukee that our voters have the right to vote,” said Barrett on Thursday. “We want to make sure we are not in the headlines in the fall.”

The move comes as a change of leadership is underway at the Milwaukee Election Commission. Longtime executive director Neil Albrecht is retiring. Claire Woodall-Vogg, who has worked for the commission since 2013, less an eight-month stint as Cedarburg City Clerk, will replace Albrecht.

The approval does not affect the number of polling sites for in-person voting on election day. The election commission reduced the number of polling sites from 150 small sites to five large ones in the April lack as a result of a worst-in-the-state COVID-19 outbreak, poll worker shortage and late response from the Wisconsin National Guard said Albrecht in April.

Thursday’s measure was approved by Ashanti Hamilton, Cavalier Johnson, Nik Kovac, Robert Bauman, Khalif Rainey, JoCasta Zamarripa, Michael Murphy, Jose G. Perez, Scott Spiker and Dimitrijevic.

Council members Nikiya Dodd, Milele A. Coggs, Chantia Lewis, Mark Borkowski and Russell W. Stamper, II were excused.

Voting Sites

  • Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N. Broadway
  • Midtown Center, 5700 W. Capitol Dr.
  • Manitoba School, 4343 W. Forest Home Ave.
  • Zablocki Library, 3501 W. Oklahoma Ave.
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), 700 W. State St.
  • University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
  • IndependenceFirst, 540 S. 1st St.
  • East Library, 2320 N. Cramer St.
  • Mitchell Street Library, 906 W. Historic Mitchell St.
  • Washington Park Library, 2121 N. Sherman Blvd.
  • Villard Square Library, 5190 N. 35th St.
  • Good Hope Library, 7717 W. Good Hope Rd.
  • Bay View Library, 2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
  • Tippecanoe Library, 3912 S. Howell Ave.
  • Cannon Park Pavilion, 303 N. 95th St.
  • Clinton Rose Senior Center, 3045 N. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr.

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Related Legislation: File 200261

Categories: Politics

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