Legislative inaction cited as one reason election may be among ‘worst in history’
The Wisconsin Elections Commission will not formally recommend pushing back the date of the April 7 election to account for extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Tuesday morning meeting, commissioners largely agreed the election will be highly flawed but could not come to an agreement on the commission’s official messaging to send to federal court amid a steady stream of lawsuits that seek to delay the election.
Communities throughout Wisconsin are facing a crippling shortage of poll workers, and the total number of absentee ballot requests is approaching one million, a number that threatens to overwhelm clerks, poll workers, and the United States Postal Service on Election Day.
“This election is probably going to go down as one of the worst elections in Wisconsin history,” said Elections Commissioner Julie Glancey.
More than 100 jurisdictions in the state cannot staff a single polling place, according to a memo included in the Election Commission’s meeting packet.
Other places, such as Waukesha, are centralizing polling to a single location. Only 541 of the state’s 1,850 jurisdictions say they have enough poll workers. The entire state is about 7,000 workers short, according to the memo.
“We know there are going to be tens of thousands of absentee ballots from people who actually voted that are not going to be counted,” said Elections Commissioner Mark Thomsen.
Commissioners Thomsen and Ann Jacobs were the only two to vote for a motion that would have recommended moving the election to May 12.
The mayors of Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Racine have publicly called for the election to be delayed and to allow more absentee ballot processing time, citing poll worker shortages and concerns that in-person voting would result in an exacerbation of the coronavirus outbreak.
Commissioner Robert Spindell said the state should instead spend on a media campaign to encourage more voters to cast absentee ballots. Thomsen shot back, saying such actions would be “intentionally disenfranchising voters” because clerks and the postal service are overwhelmed already.
“That’s what you call rigging the election,” Thomsen said.
Glancey said it was too late to delay the election and blamed the Legislature for not doing anything sooner.
“They are the ones who created this situation by their inaction,” she said.
Jacobs, Thomsen, Glancey, and Commission Chair Dean Knudson subsequently voted against asking courts to keep the election on April 7 but to allow more time for absentee ballots to be counted as long as they were postmarked on April 7 or earlier.
Thomsen and Glancey argued that votes should be counted as long as they were not postmarked later than April 7. They said post offices may make errors and not postmark every envelope due to high volume.
Gov. Tony Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have remained adamant that the election should be kept on April 7. Last week, Evers called for an absentee ballot to be sent to every registered voter, a request that Vos and Fitzgerald immediately shot down.