By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
It’s midway through March and soon it’ll be time for the Spring General Election, which is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7. As of right now, the election is to continue as scheduled but in light of recent events a press conference was held earlier this week to address the public’s concerns.
Mayor Tom Barrett said that the upcoming election is a critical one on both a local and statewide level. However, there is a growing concern for the health and safety of poll workers and voters.
“First and foremost, we want residents of Milwaukee to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Barrett said. “[But] this pandemic is serious, and we need to exercise caution.”
In Milwaukee, there are currently three ways to vote. Residents have the option of early voting, voting absentee and voting in person. Early voting began on Monday, March 16 and is offered at three locations: Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N. Broadway, Room 102, Midtown Center, 5700 W. Capitol Dr. and the Zablocki Library, 3501 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Early voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, Sunday, March 29, Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5. Early voting ends on Sunday, April 5.
Barrett stressed that polling places are being routinely cleaned and disinfected throughout early voting and on election day. He said that residents can further exercise caution by bringing their own black ballpoint pen or voting at times that are less busy to maintain the recommended six-foot distance.
If possible, Barrett recommended absentee voting by mail. “I want residents to consider this very seriously,” he said, especially those who are over 60 or who have underlying health conditions. Any person can request and receive an absentee ballot as long as he or she is registered at his or her current address.
To request an absentee ballot, residents can go to myvote.wi.gov. Absentee ballots can be requested the Thursday before Election Day, but they must be returned by Election Day.
Neil Albrecht, the executive director of the election commission for the City of Milwaukee, said that in the 2016 presidential election 10,000 people voted by mail, so far 12,000 absentee ballots have been requested for this election. The commission receives about 1,000 requests a day for absentee ballots.
Albrecht stressed that fear and panic cannot and should not prevent residents from voting. Some may choose to vote in person, others absentee and others early.
Absentee voting isn’t the only concern Barrett discussed during the press conference. A majority of the Election Day workers are over the age of 70 and considered a part of the high-risk age group.
“We want those election workers to be able to sit out this election, but they won’t do so if they are concerned about who is going to replace them at voting sites,” Albrecht said, adding that about 50% of the staff is over the age of 60.
Milwaukee needs about 1,800 workers. According to Barrett this is a good opportunity for high school students and college students to get civically involved. To apply, individuals can go to city.milwaukee.gov/election and click on the Election Workers tab to find an application.
Election site workers receive $130 a day and start time is 6 a.m. and ends when the polls close. Training will be offered, and most residents will be able to work at a polling place close to their home.
George Christensen, the county clerk for Milwaukee County, said the county is working with municipalities to provide up-to-date information. The county recently set up a hotline, (414)-278-VOTE (8683) to help raise awareness and he encourages residents to call if they have concerns.
Due to the fluidity of the situation and how contagious coronavirus is, the city and county are looking at ways to process absentee ballots in a safe and healthy way. Since, absentee ballots must be processed on Election Day, Christensen asked that the public and the media be patient as election results may not be available immediately.
Jeanette Kowalik, health commissioner for the City of Milwaukee, also spoke during the press conference. COVID-19 or coronavirus is very similar to the flu and very contagious, she said. Kowalik asked that people exercise precaution and responsibility to not expose other to illness.
The Spring General Election will take place on Tuesday, April 7. Early voting is currently open, and residents can request an absentee ballot. To learn more, go to myvote.wi.gov.