Wisconsin to Close Several Polling Locations Ahead of April 7 Primary

Blue wave or red tide? Voters are casting votes to decide
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Officials in Wisconsin are anticipating the closure of several polling locations across the state as the April 7 primary approaches due to a shortage of poll workers — another political consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Several states have opted to postpone their elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Wisconsin has not taken that step. Voters in the Badger State are still slated to cast their ballots on April 7, but officials are already running into trouble. Election clerks are running low on poll workers — so low that several polling stations will have to close, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The outlet reports that Milwaukee alone needs roughly 1,400 poll workers to sufficiently run its election but has “fewer than 400. Quickly adding new staffers is difficult in the new world of social distancing, according to Neil Albrecht, director of the Milwaukee Election Commission:

As a result, the city likely won’t be able to staff all its voting locations, “leaving mail-in absentee voting as the only means currently by which Milwaukee voters will be able to vote for the spring election scheduled to occur on April 7,” Albrecht said.

The election is shaping up to be like no other in decades. On the ballot is the presidential primary as well as races for state Supreme Court and local offices, including Milwaukee mayor and Milwaukee County executive.

It is not just Milwaukee, either. The city of Waukesha announced on Monday the consolidation of its polling locations from 13 to one due to the mass loss of poll workers due to mounting concerns about the coronavirus:

That one location will be the city’s recreation center, a space large enough that officials believe it can provide the necessary social distancing.

Instead of the 300 or so volunteer poll workers the city might have for all its polling locations, it expects to have only about 40 to 50.

“Every day, I get more emails from people asking to pull out, which is totally understandable,” said Gina Kozlik, Waukesha’s clerk-treasurer.

Some officials, like Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, want the election postponed altogether.

“We all believe in a free and fair democracy and we want everyone to have the ability to exercise their right to vote,” she said.

“We also all believe everyone should be able to stay healthy while they’re doing so, and right now those two things are in conflict,” she added:

The city has been able to fill about half the election-day shifts it says it needs and can’t use at least 14 of its 92 polling places because of coronavirus concerns, according to City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.

While state election officials are taking steps to provide safety advice for poll workers, some doubt it is enough.

“I don’t think we should be saying to anyone that as long as you follow these (steps), you’ll be safe,” Commissioner Mark Thomsen said, according to the outlet.

“I don’t think we can tell the public that it’s going to be safe on April 7. And I don’t know how we’re going to man the polls,” Thomsen continued.

“I think we’re at a crisis and I think it’s imperative on the Legislature and the governor to do something to help us solve this problem,” he added.

Residents of Wisconsin are currently under a stay-at-home order through April 24. The state had 1,330 confirmed cases of the virus as of Tuesday morning.

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