By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett addressed a letter to Gov. Tony Evers, Rep. Robin Vos and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald. The letter focused on the upcoming spring election, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, April 7.
This is not the first time, Barrett expressed concern over the election. The week prior, Barrett encouraged Milwaukee residents to apply for absentee ballots or early voting to minimize the number of voters on Election Day. The request was a part of Milwaukee’s efforts to encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus.
However, Evers recently announced a “stay at home” order to minimize the number of people out in public spaces. Except for essential needs, Wisconsinites are encouraged to stay in their home. With that in mind, Barrett’s letter asked Evers and company to modify the election procedure.
“Having monitored the situation in Milwaukee, I now believe that neither in-person absentee voting nor in-person voting on April 7 is feasible or safe for our workers or residents,” Barrett wrote.
Barrett made several requests in his letter to Evers, Vos and Fitzgerald to change the election procedure in order to make it safer and more feasible for everyone to vote.
Part of the problem is that long term poll workers are choosing not to work at polling sites in order to minimize his or her chance at contracting COVID-19. While additional sites have been added to spread out voters, the fact remains that it’s safer to vote absentee by mail. Barrett acknowledged that voting absentee by mail would present its own challenges.
According to Barrett, there’s the potential for 130,000 absentee ballots to be cast in Milwaukee. In 2016, only 62,000 absentee ballots were cast during the Presidential Election. For that, Barrett asked that the process period begin prior to the election date.
“Time is of the essence,” Barrett wrote. “Every day spent preparing for in-person voting is a lost opportunity for municipalities to retool their election and regain traction with meeting the already heavy demands for absentee ballots.”
He also asked that photo ID requirements be waived for registered voters as many have already expressed confusion over the proper way to do it.
Barrett held a virtual press conference with Neil Albrecht, the executive director of the Election Commission for the City of Milwaukee, to discuss the letter.
Barrett said that in his conversations with officials, everyone expressed their desire for the election to continue. However, due to recent events such as the “stay at home” order forced many poll workers and site supervisors to reevaluate their decision to work the polls.
For that, Barrett asked that the governor consider election by mail. This would mean the election would extend beyond the standard single election day but would be safer overall.
Albrecht explained that the City of Milwaukee has a high number of workers who are committed to helping out during the election as site supervisors and at polling sites.
“We owe those election workers an assurance of safety,” said Albrecht.
He added that part of the concern is that the election is less than two weeks away. This is not a lot of time for municipalities to educate the public on absentee voting by mail and to prepare the system for a mail election.
“My goal is not to disenfranchise a single voter,” Barrett said.
The Election Commission is dedicated to finding a solution that allows all eligible voters to cast a ballot and stay healthy and safe. As of right now, the election is still scheduled as is. While early voting sites have closed, eligible residents can register online and request absentee ballots at myvote.wi.gov.