Poll workers in Milwaukee called heroes of Wisconsin primary
The executive director of the city of Milwaukee's election commission says poll workers are the true heroes of the state's decision to move forward with an election.
The city of Milwaukee could only operate five polling sites for Tuesday's primary, down from its usual number of roughly 180, due to the coronavirus. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city's election commission, says Tuesday the five sites opened on time or within minutes of on time, and they were sufficiently staffed.
He says there were 80 to 100 poll workers at each site, and about 30 National Guard members at each location. Workers were taking safety precautions.
As of midday Tuesday, turnout had been robust, with most of the sites reporting wait times ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Lines stretched for several blocks as workers maintained social distancing between voters.
Albrecht called the wait times unfortunate. He also said the election has been filled with injustices.
Among them, his office has gotten numerous calls from people who requested an absentee ballot but didn't get one. He said for those people, their only option was to vote in person. He says because of the decision by the Legislature and the courts to move forward with an election, some members of the public who have voted consistently for 40 years or more are now faced with making a decision to skip the election and not cast a ballot.
"We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin," he said.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported Tuesday morning that it had received no reports of polling places being unable to open as planned.
There had already been plans to consolidate polling places, especially in larger cities, due to poll workers refusing to show up due to fears of the coronavirus. Milwaukee reduced its number of polling locations from 188 to just five, and there were long lines to vote on Tuesday. One voter said she waited more than two hours to cast her ballot.
More than 2,000 Wisconsin National Guard members were ready to help staff polling places to deal with shortages.
As of Tuesday, nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots had been sent to voters across the state. But more than 408,000 still had not been returned. Only ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted, per a Monday order from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some voters were waiting more than two hours in lines at one of Milwaukee's five polling places that are open for the state's presidential primary and spring general election.
Lines were also reported at other locations across the state on Tuesday as safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were causing delays.
Voter Shannon Ochoa, from Milwaukee, said she waited more than two hours to vote at a Milwaukee high school. The line snaked around several city blocks.
In the western Wisconsin village of Holmen, voter Christopher Sullivan said he was "ashamed to be from Wisconsin today" given the voting conditions. He described police limiting the number of people who could enter the village office, a makeshift sink where he had to wash his hands and masked poll workers.
"I have voted many times in my life (and at this location) and have never experienced something so eerie," Sullivan said. "Because it is this unsafe to vote, maybe we should have postponed the election or done mail-in ballots."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was wearing protective gloves, a mask and gown while volunteering at a polling place in Burlington. He said the wait time there was about 30 minutes.
Dozens of voters, many wearing masks and standing apart from one another, waited outside the South Division High School polling place in Milwaukee as the polls opened Tuesday.
A similar long line of voters waited at Waukesha's only polling site.
Long waiting times were expected as the number of polling places was cut due to workers concerns about contracting COVID-19.
Kristin Hansen, 53, a voting rights activist, thought about working the polls when she heard there was a need, but she decided against it because she has asthma and seasonal allergies that already cause her breathing problems.
Hansen said she finds it hard to believe Wisconsin is holding in-person voting in light of the pandemic.
National Guard members are helping staff polling places because of the shortage of workers.
Polls are open across Wisconsin on a most unusual election day.
Polls will remain open on Tuesday until 8 p.m., but voters are urged to be patient and take safety precautions.
Gov. Tony Evers tried to stop in-person voting with an order Monday, but the state Supreme Court ruled it must go on. Cities have consolidated the number of polling sites due to a shortage of workers willing to interact with the public due to the coronavirus.
Thousands of poll workers said they would not work, resulting in National Guard troops being called on to fill in the gaps.
In addition to the presidential primary, thousands of local officials are on the ballot. There is also a state Supreme Court race. Results aren't planned to be released until Monday because absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday can still be received by then.
Wisconsin poll workers are arriving at primary voting locations around the state and some are fearful about catching and spreading the coronavirus as thousands turn out to vote despite a stay-at-home order.
A small number of voters, some wearing masks, lined up at one Milwaukee polling place before it opened Tuesday. The stood apart from one another as safety guidelines have recommended.
Rob Cronwell, 49, of Glendale, has worked the polls in the past and decided to sign up again this year knowing there would be a shortage.
Cronwell tells the Journal Sentinel he has concerns about his well-being, but considers it critical to have open, free and fair elections.
The city of Madison has made its poll workers aware of extra precautions that are being taken, including hand sanitizer, Plexiglas separations and floor marks for safe distancing.
More than 2,400 cases of coronavirus have been reported across the state as of Monday.