Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

COVID Outbreak Delays Election Workers Pay

Plus: What's the deal with that "lost" USB drive?

By - Nov 17th, 2020 10:29 am
Returned ballots for the November 2020 election. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Returned ballots for the November 2020 election. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee election workers will have to wait an extra two weeks to be paid. A COVID-19 outbreak at the Milwaukee Election Commission has eliminated the department’s ability to process payroll as scheduled.

Over 3,000 people are scheduled to be paid approximately $230 for a full-day shift working at the polls or city’s central count facility on November 4th. The amount includes $130 base pay plus a $100 pandemic bonus.

But the nine-person election commission department saw three employees test positive for the disease in the weeks following the election. Two more are now out on quarantine because of exposure-related concerns. The positive tests come as Milwaukee reports a record number of cases.

Those out include the employees that handle payroll, a submission for which was due Monday. The payments were to go out November 26th. They will now be issued as part of the next pay period on December 10th.

“It wasn’t anyone that worked at central count,” said executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg in an interview. On election day the central count facility on the fourth floor of a downtown office building had three shifts of approximately 400 workers each.

Woodall-Vogg confirmed she was not among those that tested positive.

“We are sorry for the inconvenience this might create. Please know that we did everything possible to avoid delaying paychecks, including using the assistance of other departments, but our payroll staff have been most affected by the outbreak,” wrote deputy director Jonatan Zuniga in an email to election workers.

The city had recruited extra poll workers anticipating that up to 20% wouldn’t show on election day. “We had a record breaking lack of no shows on election day,” said Woodall-Vogg to the Judiciary & Legislation Committee on Monday. That created extra capacity at central count. “We were bringing in additional tables because everyone who said they were going to show up showed up.”

While poll workers have to wait for their checks, Woodall-Vogg and other election clerks are waiting to see if there will be a formal recount.

The recount would be led by Milwaukee County, but Woodall-Vogg said she was confident in the city’s efforts withstanding scrutiny. “All of our processes were open and transparent and there were plenty of observers at any time,” she said. “A recount will just confirm that, just like it did in 2016.”

Any of the candidates on the ballot where a race was decided by a percentage point or less could call for a recount. The city would be given 13 days to complete the recount, starting this Friday. “The only day off would be Thanksgiving,” she said. A statewide presidential race recount would cost $7.9 million and the requesting candidate would need to pay the sum by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. The campaign of Donald Trump has said it wants a recount.

What About That Flash Drive Conspiracy?

On November 6th Wisconsin Right Now published an article based on anonymous sources that questioned the chain of custody for a USB drive containing election results that was “briefly lost.”

The absentee ballots are tabulated at central count on high-speed machines that are not connected to the internet. An encrypted USB drive, as well as paper totals, from each machine is manually transported to the Milwaukee County Election Commission when the results are tabulated. Urban Milwaukee was on hand at approximately 3:00 a.m. when Woodall-Vogg went machine by machine collecting the results and then was driven by police escort to the courthouse.

On Monday Woodall-Vogg told the committee she forgot to grab one of the 12 drives after exporting the results. A phone call to a commission employee at the central count facility revealed that it was still in the machine she said and a Milwaukee Police Department officer transported it to the courthouse. Digital timestamps on the drive and election machine confirm the time of export.

“My mistake, and it was fully and 100 percent only my mistake after being awake for 24 hours, has resulted in conspiracy theories on the internet,” said Woodall-Vogg. A letter to the Wisconsin Election Commission, submitted November 9th, details what happened, including a subsequent Milwaukee County District Attorney review.

“I believe it is important to document that the flash drive was never left unattended and that the staff had remained in the room throughout the process,” Woodall-Vogg wrote. “The incident bears no impact on the validity of the results.”

“This was not an easy election to run, so it feels good that there were no major issues,” said committee chair Alderman Ashanti Hamilton. Other committee members thanked her for her work.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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