There were upsides to the tumultuous Wisconsin election in April. At that time, there was an unprecedented flood of absentee voting, with some significant missteps related to mail service. Many of the usual polling places were closed, leading to long lines at those that were available, amid extensive precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A photo from one Milwaukee polling place of a voter holding a sign proclaiming the situation “ridiculous” circulated around the world.
So what was that upside? A lot was learned about what to do and what not to do, the challenges of running an election in today’s circumstances were clear to the public, and there is a good forecast for an election this fall that will be well run, with good options for voting and good reason to be confident the results will be reliable.
That was the picture painted Wednesday by three people involved in overseeing how the election, featuring a presidential choice, is shaping up. Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg, and Brookfield City Clerk Kelly Michaels spoke with Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, during a virtual “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program.
You want to vote absentee? That’s doable, the three agreed.
More than a million people statewide have requested absentee ballots and the number continues rise, Wolfe said. But the process for sending out ballots is on track and extensive work is being done (including with postal officials) to assure ballots are returned, voters can check if their ballots are being counted, and ballots can be counted reliably. One important piece advice from all three election officials: If you’re voting absentee, vote early.
You want to vote in person? That will be doable, the three agreed.
“I liken going to your polling place to going to the grocery store,” Woodall-Vogg said. As a result of the pandemic, people have gotten used to changes in how they shop. There’s plexiglass between customers and cashiers. People wear masks and are expected to maintain social distancing. Surfaces are disinfected frequently. And if you go at peak times, you might need to wait a bit in line.
The same things will be the case at polling places, Woodall-Vogg said. In the City of Milwaukee, more than 170 polling places will be open – just short of what was available in the past. That’s far better than the five that were open in April.
Michaels said that in Brookfield, “the public got the message that we need help,” and lining up poll workers for Nov. 3 is going well. Woodall-Vogg said the same is true for Milwaukee.
Woodall-Vogg said, “It’s important that voters know that election day polling place voting is open, it’s safe.”
There also will be options for voting in person ahead of election day in many places. And if people don’t want to mail in absentee ballots, there will places in many communities – including throughout Milwaukee – where people can deposit ballots in secure boxes,
The three officials said great attention is being paid to security and transparency in how voting proceeds and how votes are counted. While partisanship around the election is heated, the three said they are doing all they can to focus on running the election well, including training supervisors at polls on how to deescalate tensions among people who come to the polling places.
All three said that it might take longer for unofficial results from polling places to become available because of the huge number of absentee votes. Those votes cannot be counted before election day.
Woodall-Vogg said outcomes won’t be known at 9 p.m. on election night but she is hopeful there will results by sunrise the following day. And if results come slowly, that only means the process is taking time, not that there is something wrong or improper.
All three said they were sorry there are many people who are convinced the election will not be run fairly or that there are conspiracies around vote counting. They urged people to become poll workers or to at least watch polling and vote counting processes, which are open to observers. They will see how sound the process is, they said.
Wolfe said, “We’re going to continue to emphasize accuracy over speed, because accuracy and transparency and security, those are all things that take time and those are all things that are fundamental to elections and will remain a core value as part of this process.”
The timetable for mailing absentee votes is tight, but things are on track, Wolfe said. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held up the process for several days while considering a lawsuit saying the Green Party candidate for president should be on the ballot. But the court decided on Monday to reject that bid and allow the process to proceed.
Gousha asked Wolfe if she was sleeping better after the court’s ruling.
“I don’t know what this sleep is that you speak of,” she answered.
To watch video of the program, click here.