'I had to go do this:' Some waited 2 hours on final day of drive-thru voting in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- Despite the coronavirus pandemic, court battles and a plea from Democrats to hold off, Election Day remains scheduled for Tuesday, April 7 in Wisconsin. Those with absentee ballots have until 4 p.m. on April 13 to return them.

With just five polling locations set to be open Tuesday in Milwaukee (instead of the usual 180), there was a massive turnout Sunday on the final day of drive-thru voting at the Zeidler Building in downtown Milwaukee.

"We're almost there," said Rhonda Henning. "We're at the finish line."

"It's a lot of people here," said Stella Nathan. "I didn't expect that many people."

Things were scheduled to wrap up at 5 p.m., but FOX6's cameras captured a lot of people in vehicles waiting to cast their ballot.

FOX6 News spoke with some who had been waiting for about two hours.

"We got in line at 2:30 p.m." said Crystal Stinemates. "It's 4 p.m. now."

"I wanted to do this to make sure my vote got in," said Henning. "I'm just going to do it. I'd rather do that than go in and vote. I just don't want to go into a space, even though they're dividing everybody up and everything."

"The police are out here trying to make sure everybody knows what they're doing, where they're going," said Nathan.

Workers greeted voters curbside, issuing ballots and collecting them in minutes.

Several voters said they didn't want to go to the polls on Tuesday due to health concerns, but they wanted to make sure their voices were heard.

"I saw people rallying on Facebook, like, let's get people to vote. Let's go out here. Let's do this," said Nathan. "I've always been a voter. My mom has been a voter, so it's just kind of in my blood, almost. I was like, I have to go do this, no matter the circumstances."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and nine other mayors submitted the below letter to Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm Sunday:

"As leaders of communities throughout Wisconsin, we write to ask you to exercise the emergency powers delegated to you under section 252.02 of the Wisconsin State Statutes. We implore you to implement all emergency measures necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, a communicable disease. Specifically, we need you to step up and stop the State of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads.

This request is urgent because, as you know, Wisconsin's April primary election is scheduled for this Tuesday, April 7. We believe it would be irresponsible and contrary to public health to conduct in-person voting throughout the state at the very time this disease is spreading rapidly. Over 1,350,000 people live in our communities, and we need you to provide leadership.

We thank Governor Evers for the leadership he demonstrated when he declared a state of emergency via Emergency Order #12. We thank him for calling a special session to address this issue, in light of the Legislature's inexcusable refusal to act, you and your department now are the sole parties in the position to prevent hundreds of thousands of voters and poll workers from potentially being exposed needlessly to this worldwide pandemic.

In his decision just days ago, Judge Conley recognized the important role you play when he said, "As much as the court would prefer the Legislature and Governor consider the public health ahead of any political considerations, that does not appear in the cards. NOR IS IT APPROPRIATE FOR A FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT TO ACT AS STATE'S CHIEF HEALTH OFFICIAL BY TAKING THAT STEP FOR THEM."

We want to emphasize that the election has already begun. Hundreds of thousands of people have requested absentee ballots and many of those have already been returned. Those votes must be counted. The real issue is how we conclude. We must still ensure every eligible voter has the right to vote without jeopardizing their health.

For that reason, we call on the Legislature to heed Governor Evers' request for a special session. Meet tomorrow before April 7, and work with him to craft a procedure that protects public health and protects the right to vote. We believe the most logical way to accomplish an election that maintains the Safer at Home order is to mail every registered voter a ballot.

EVERY other state that faced this issue during the pandemic has crafted a solution that respects democracy and protected the health of their citizens. We must do the same.

Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee
Mayor Eric Genrich, Green Bay
Mayor Lori Palmeri, Oshkosh
Mayor Tim Kabat, La Crosse
Mayor John Antaramian, Kenosha
Mayor Cory Mason, Racine
Mayor Tim Hanna, Appleton,
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Madison
Mayor Karen Mischel, Viroqua
Mayor Kathy Ehley, Wauwatosa"

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent a letter to legislative leaders Sunday, calling their failure to address safety issues surrounding the election"unconscionable." In the letter, addressed to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the WEC said they cannot guarantee the safety of voters, and 111 municipalities don't have sufficient poll workers to open a single polling site.

They called on lawmakers to delay the election.

Gov. Tony Evers on Friday urged the Legislature to postpone Election Day. Doing so would take the action of the Legislature and Gov. Evers. So, Gov. Evers called lawmakers into a special session for 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 4. Two Democratic senators attended, including Milwaukee's Tim Carpenter. Lawmakers gaveled in and gaveled out, and there was no debate or testimony.

Gov. Tony Evers

Gov. Evers called for the Legislature to extend the election from April 7 until May 19. He wanted ballots mailed to all registered voters who had not already requested an absentee ballot or voted early. He also asked for no more in-person voting, except for people with disabilities or who can't read. Under Gov. Evers' proposal, ballots could be received through May 26. People serving in local and county offices, whose spots become vacant in April, would continue in their jobs until the election is called.

Republicans shot down the governor's plan, writing:

"If the governor had legitimate concerns, we could have come to a bipartisan solution weeks ago. This discussion would have happened long before today."

In fact, Gov. Evers in a court brief earlier in the week still said that the election could happen on April 7. And, after Saturday's special session, that's where it will stay, for now. The session was adjourned until Monday, April 6 -- one day before the election.

A federal judge ruled absentee ballots could be delivered through April 13, but Republicans appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme County on Saturday.

The GOP argued in their brief to Justice Brett Kavanaugh that the absentee extension is “a deeply consequential and disruptive change” that risks confusing voters, comes too close to the election and unfairly creates two different deadlines for voters — one for in-person voting and one for absentees.

“Absentee voting should not be a procedure that gives some voters dramatically different incentives and information than others, permits advocacy groups to strategically chase down ballots that were not cast on election day, and otherwise disrupts Wisconsin statutes that aim to separate cleanly the time for ballot casting and ballot counting,” their filing said, requesting a stay by Monday.