$3.3 Million Awarded to 52 Wisconsin Counties for Election Security
Gretchen Yoder waits in line to vote April 7 at Washington High School in Milwaukee. She wore handwritten signs on her purse and shirt that read: "This is what voter suppression looks like," a protest of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to overrule Gov. Tony Evers' executive order postponing Tuesday's election. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Commissioners also talk about voting under Gov. Evers’ new mask mandate.

As local clerks try to navigate planning for what will no doubt be a general election for the history books, the Wisconsin Elections Commission sought to alleviate concerns by awarding $3.3 million in grants to 52 counties to go toward election security improvements.

Fifty-nine of the state’s 72 counties applied for grants to go toward improvements ranging from computer firewalls to printers, and the Elections Commission on Wednesday awarded 50 of those grants and two more partially.

Adams, Ashland, Burnett, Crawford, Forest, Grant, Iowa, Menomonee, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Richland, and Taylor counties did not apply.

Even with 13 counties sitting out the initial grant applications, the Elections Commission was not able to totally fulfill each grant. Clerks requested $4.2 million in total but the Commission only had $3.35 million to disburse.

All the requests were detailed in the Commission’s Wednesday meeting agenda packet.

The Commission also ruled that it needed more information from Iron, La Crosse, Langlade, Marathon, Milwaukee, Waupaca, and Waushara counties before granting their requests.

The area that counties requested the most help in was voting equipment and election management systems, with requests exceeding $1 million. 

The second-largest type of request was for more than $700,000 for security assessments. This suggests there are numerous counties that do not know what their weaknesses are heading into an election that is expected to have record levels of mail-in voting. Forty-one of the counties requested money for security assessments.

In a second emergency meeting called after Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate, the Commission also gave an idea of what voting will look like under the order and voted on guidelines to give to local clerks.

Voters — at least for the August 11 primary election, as the mask mandate expires Sept. 28 — will not be required to wear a mask, the Commission decided. Requiring a mask could potentially have the effect of disenfranchising some voters, Commissioner Dean Knudson said.

“It needs to be clear from the outset: No voter gets turned away for not wearing a mask,” Knudson said.

Voters may also be asked to remove their mask momentarily to prove their identity, an exception granted by Evers’ order. However, poll workers and election observers will be required to mask up.

Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs said she was concerned of another poll worker shortage as seen for the April 7 primary. She noted that if the state Supreme Court nixes Evers’ new emergency declaration, he may not be able to deploy National Guard members to staff polls like he did in April.

“There’s a risk that we won’t have Guard personnel for August and November,” she said.