City Election Drop Boxes Are Temporary
Permanent drop boxes "built like a tank" are coming, but delayed by wildfire.
Fifteen locations around the city received secured ballot drop boxes in the past week. But Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg revealed Monday that the boxes are only temporary until even more secure replacements arrive. But when those replacements will arrive remains a question.
The drop boxes in use today are installed at the 13 branch libraries, the City Hall complex and the Milwaukee Election Commission warehouse at 1901 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. The boxes are bolted into the ground, with a crew from the Department of Public Works demonstrating to the media that one could be installed in under 10 minutes.
The permanent boxes, which will weigh over 300 pounds each, will take more time. Made by Oregon-based Fort Knox Mailbox, the boxes will be anchored to the ground with concrete. The company’s slogan is “built like a tank.”
The city will accept ballots dropped in current boxes until polls close, 8 p.m., on election night. How will that be monitored? An employee will need to be present at each box and prevent additional ballots from being added as those in the box are removed. The permanent boxes have a closing door that would prevent late submissions.
But delivery of the Fort Knox boxes has been delayed, forcing the city to go with the temporary boxes. “I am really glad I ordered them because I just learned of another delay,” said Woodall-Vogg to the Common Council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee. The latest issue impacting delivery are the wildfires in Oregon. “It could be even later in October that we receive what will become the City of Milwaukee’s official ballot drop boxes,” she noted. The company’s website says it is not accepting orders for the November election at this point.
The temporary boxes will be emptied daily in the lead up to the election, and every two hours on election day. Woodall-Vogg told the press last week that functionality includes a clear chain of custody when the ballots are removed from the temporary boxes.
If the permanent boxes aren’t able to be delivered in time for this election, it doesn’t mean they will have no future use. “We will use those for every election going forward,” said Woodall-Vogg. She said she anticipates people will continue to vote absentee, even after the pandemic.
“These are going to be permanent installations,” she said. To prevent wear-and-tear, the boxes will be covered and locked when an election isn’t underway.
All of the locations are monitored by cameras. Tampering with ballots is a felony. Should any ballots be damaged and the sender not identified, the city would notify the public of the time window and location of the drop box that was damaged. Under Wisconsin law, ballots can be reissued and the original ballot voided.
Fort Knox promotes a “drop out design” for its boxes that routes any water and sand poured into the drop off slot away from the ballots.
Ballots for the November 3rd election will be mailed by the city starting September 17th. Woodall-Vogg said the instructions accompanying the ballots have been “greatly improved.”
Ballot boxes weren’t the only thing the committee discussed. Woodall-Vogg said preparation for the election is going well. The committee confirmed her appointment of Jonatan Zuniga as deputy director. Zuniga will oversee issues with polling places on election day alongside former executive director Neil Albrecht, while Woodall-Vogg will administer the central count facility. “Central count is my expertise and my baby, it’s where I’ve worked for the past eight years,” she said.
Woodall-Vogg said the election commission has an improved relationship with the United States Postal Service following the April election. “They have also made a commitment on election day to a full sweep of postal facilities,” said Woodall-Vogg of ensuring all ballots received by 8 p.m. are eligible to be counted.
She said issues with postmarks that plagued the April election aren’t likely to be a factor because state law requires the ballot to be received by the close of polls, and not postmarked by a certain date. Woodall-Vogg said contingency plans are in place should that change. “That’s kind of on my back burner,” she said. “I don’t even dare to speculate on the many different avenues and lawsuits that happen in Wisconsin right before elections.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court resolved one looming issue Monday afternoon. It rejected the Green Party’s lawsuit to be placed on the ballot. The Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked on whether to accept the party’s nomination signatures because of an issue with the address of Vice Presidential candidate and former Milwaukee resident Angela Walker. Ballots, printed by Milwaukee County, can be mailed as expected on Thursday.
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