Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocks on opening investigation into clerks over April 7 election

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Elections Commission deadlocked on opening investigations into Milwaukee and Dane County clerks during an emergency telephone meeting Sunday, March 29 regarding the April 7 election.

The clerks told voters Governor Tony Ever's "Safer at Home" order means they wouldn't have to show a photo ID to vote by mail.

On Friday, March 27, the Wisconsin Republican Party asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to intervene in the matter.

A federal judge had tossed a previous lawsuit brought by Green Bay that sought to postpone the April election because of coronavirus concerns -- requesting the election be moved to all-mail.

Governor Evers and Republican leaders have looked to keep the April 7 date.

During an emergency meeting of the Wisconsin Elections Commission Sunday, commissioners tied three-to-three on opening investigations into the clerks in Dane and Milwaukee County.

Statement from Milwaukee County clerk

Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson declared due to Governor Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" order, anyone requesting an absentee ballot may appropriately declare themselves indefinitely confined. Once that's done, the voter is waived from having to upload their ID to the system -- to help those who would be unable to get to the DMV to make any needed corrections or get otherwise required ID to vote.

A statement from Christenson said municipal clerks were informed of this step. He said all voters who request a ballot and don't have the ability or equipment to upload a valid ID should indicate they are indefinitely confined. He noted that voters should not be reluctant to check the box "because this is a pandemic and this option exists in state law to help preserve everyone's right to vote."

He offered these steps to take:

    Decline in election worker staffing in Milwaukee

    Officials with the City of Milwaukee Election Commission reported Sunday a continued decline in election worker staffing numbers in anticipation of the April 7 election.

    According to a statement from election officials, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly half of the city’s election workforce were over the age of 60, with one-third over the age of 70. Election officials noted a majority of those workers have indicated an inability to work due to their high-risk status. Others, following local and state stay-at-home guidelines, are self-confining.

    “The math is simple,” said Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission in a news release Sunday. “We would normally operate our 180 sites with a minimum of 1,400 election workers. As of today, we have less than 400. We will not be able to maintain our longstanding tradition neighborhood-based voting for this election.”

    Election officials noted ongoing recruitment efforts, and "many in Milwaukee have come forward to allow senior election workers to stay home, but the numbers of trained workers have declined daily," with three more training classes scheduled prior to the April 7 election.

    As of Sunday, election officials said they were reviewing voting models used by other states in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as seeking guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, with many municipalities in Wisconsin consolidating sites in order to reduce the number of necessary workers and to be able to better enforce health and safety standards.

    The release said one option would involve Milwaukee moving to a model of "voting centers," where several aldermanic districts are combined into one voting site.

    “This is not a model I’m comfortable with,” said Albrecht in the release, citing that combined sites could also mean many more people voting per site, “but this is where the inaction of the Wisconsin Legislature has left the public: potentially placing themselves at risk in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

    Milwaukee officials joined with other municipalities across the state to request an extension of the election date and limit voting to absentee only.

    Last week, all 19 Milwaukee County municipalities submitted a letter to the governor and members of the Wisconsin Legislature encouraging the elimination of in-person voting due to the risk to election workers and the public. To date, there has been no response, the release said.

    City leaders continued to urge residents to vote absentee, or at Milwaukee’s recently launched drive-up voting site at the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building located
    at 841 N. Broadway.

    By-mail absentee ballots can be requested up until Thursday, April 2, and returned by mail or at any of the city’s five absentee ballot drop-off sites.

    Drive-up voting will continue until Sunday, April 5, with weekday hours of 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and weekend hours of 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.