By Senator Lena C. Taylor
The City of Milwaukee Election Commission, in exercising poor judgment and inadequate procedures during the 2020 Spring Election, subjected Milwaukee residents to clear voter disenfranchisement. While many questions remain regarding the decisions and actions taken by the Barrett administration and the Election Commission, we are already in the throes of another election cycle. Although the weather is warm, in less than six weeks, we will begin our Fall Primary elections. We are not ready.
In fairness, a lot has transpired since the debacle that was the April 7 election. The executive director of the Election Commission, Neil Albrecht, retired in May 2020. Mayor Barrett nominated Claire Woodall-Vogg, for the position. The Common Council threw everyone for a loop when they insisted those being appointed to cabinet level positions needed to have clear plans to address the concerns the community has raised around issues of social justice, equity and inclusion. It was an ambitious ask, that may have overwhelmed Woodall-Vogg. She removed her name from consideration.
In the meantime, absentee ballots for the fall election have already begun to arrive at voters’ doors. So, the question is who’s manning the ship? Who is the readily identifiable, competent and accountable individual to be responsible for the upcoming elections? Afterall, the recent appeals court ruling that limits early voting to just 12 days before the election, is a game changer. We need clear and early information on polling locations, to reduce the number of voters trying to vote at one of the abandoned 175 polling locations of the past. Senior citizens, who have traditionally had sites in their buildings, have asked how they will be accommodated. They are worried because they Taylorknow that they are more susceptible to succumbing to COVID-19. The last election, seniors barely got two-day notice of the alternate voting locations and missed voting for the first time in their life.
Numerous complaints have been filed for voter disenfranchisement, including complaints from the NAACP, the ACLU and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. We are not out of the woods on a health pandemic that has taken more than 128,000 lives in this country. The health of poll workers and voters has to be taken into consideration by the Milwaukee Election Commission. Yet, we should all be startled by a recent report from The Brennan Center for Justice. The group found that the reduction of polling sites on April 7 in Milwaukee, impacted a significant number of black voters, reduced voting among non-Black voters in the city by 8.5 percentage points, and that COVID-19 may have further reduced turnout by 1.4 percentage points.
In the April election, hundreds of voters didn’t receive their absentee ballot in time to vote. The post office found absentee ballots sitting bin after the election. Lines went on for hours and there was no clear plan to aid seniors or residents with disabilities who were incapable of waiting in long lines. The April 7 election is a constant reminder of what happens when the system breaks down or fails. We should never let that happen again. So, what’s the plan…