The Latest: Voters return 77% of absentee ballots in time
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Latest on Wisconsin’s primary election (all times local):
New numbers from the Wisconsin Elections Commission show voters have returned at least three-quarters of the absentee ballots they requested in time for them to count in the state’s spring election and more could be in the mail.
According to the elections commission, as of 8 p.m. Tuesday voters had requested nearly 1.29 million absentee ballots. Clerks had issued nearly 1.28 million absentee ballots and had recorded 990,129 returned. That’s about a 77% return rate.
Voters had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to drop absentee ballots off at the polls. Clerks also will accept any ballots postmarked Tuesday that they receive through the mail until April 13, which means clerks could be getting more ballots in the mail in the coming days.
The city of Milwaukee’s top election official says hundreds of absentee ballots filed without a witness signature during the roughly 24 hours a federal judge said the requirement didn’t apply won’t count.
U.S District Judge William Conley on Thursday lifted the witness signature requirement for absentee voters in light of social distancing mandates to slow the coronavirus. A federal appellate court reinstated the requirement the next day. State election officials have said ballots filed without a witness signature are therefore invalid and voters who cast them can’t vote again in any way.
Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht says that as of Tuesday afternoon the city had received 750 absentee ballots without a witness signature. He says those ballots will not count.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett apologized Tuesday for the election, saying it’s embarrassing that the Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t postpone the election and now tens of thousands of people to choose between voting and risking infection at the polls.
Wisconsin state Supreme Court hopeful Jill Karofsky blasted the justices Tuesday for ordering the state’s spring election to move ahead during the coronavirus pandemic.
Karofsky is trying to unseat incumbent Justice Dan Kelly, who is part of the Supreme Court’s five-person conservative majority. The race is officially nonpartisan but Democrats back Karofsky and Republicans support Kelly.
Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order Monday postponing in-person voting to June but the Supreme Court struck it down 4-2 in a matter of hours. Kelly recused himself.
Karofsky told reporters Tuesday that the court’s decision is another example of how the court is broken. She said there’s no way the justices had time to truly analyze Evers’ order and the extent of his emergency powers under state law before they issued their decision. That creates the perception that the court reached the decision ahead of time.
Kelly spent Tuesday sending out tweets asking people to vote.
Karofksy has accused Kelly of being corrupt because he constantly sides with conservative groups when they come before the court. Karofsky herself has accepted $1.3 million from the state Democratic Party. She said Tuesday that if she gets on the court she would recuse herself from any litigation involving the state Democratic Party. She also said that she would recuse herself from any challenge to the election’s validity if the case directly impacts her.
The number of deaths from the coronavirus in Wisconsin increased by 15 as reported Tuesday as voters were casting ballots in person at the polls statewide, despite an order to stay at home to avoid spreading the highly contagious disease.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that deaths increased from 77 on Monday to 92 on Tuesday. The overall number of confirmed cases rose from 2,440 to 2,578.
The numbers come as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is urging people to be as safe as they can when voting. Evers said he was “overwhelmed by the bravery, resilience, and heroism of those who are defending our democracy” by voting and working at the polls.
People in Milwaukee were waiting hours to vote, while turnout was lower in other parts of the state. Many voters wore face masks and gloves, while poll workers were taking even more steps to keep voting as safe as it could be.
There were shortages of workers due to many being afraid to work because of the virus. National Guard troops weer dispatched to help fill in gaps.
The executive director of the city of Milwaukee’s election commission says poll workers are the true heroes of the state’s decision to move forward with an election.
The city of Milwaukee could only operate five polling sites for Tuesday’s primary, down from its usual number of roughly 180, due to the coronavirus. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city’s election commission, says Tuesday the five sites opened on time or within minutes of on time, and they were sufficiently staffed.
He says there were 30 National Guard members at each location, along with dozens of poll workers, members of law enforcement and others. Workers were taking safety precautions.
As of midday Tuesday, turnout had been robust, with most of the sites reporting wait times ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Lines stretched for several blocks as workers maintained social distancing between voters.
Albrecht called the wait times unfortunate. He also said the election has been filled with injustices.
Among them, his office has gotten numerous calls from people who requested an absentee ballot but didn’t get one. He said for those people, their only option was to vote in person. He says because of the decision by the Legislature and the courts to move forward with an election, some members of the public who have voted consistently for 40 years or more are now faced with making a decision to skip the election and not cast a ballot.
“We have moved forward with an election, but we have not moved forward with democracy in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported Tuesday morning that it had received no reports of polling places being unable to open as planned.
There had already been plans to consolidate polling places, especially in larger cities, due to poll workers refusing to show up due to fears of the coronavirus. Milwaukee reduced its number of polling locations from 188 to just five, and there were long lines to vote on Tuesday. One voter said she waited more than two hours to cast her ballot.
More than 2,000 Wisconsin National Guard members were ready to help staff polling places to deal with shortages.
As of Tuesday, nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots had been sent to voters across the state. But more than 408,000 still had not been returned. Only ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted, per a Monday order from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some voters were waiting more than two hours in lines at one of Milwaukee’s five polling places that are open for the state’s presidential primary and spring general election.
Lines were also reported at other locations across the state on Tuesday as safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were causing delays.
Voter Shannon Ochoa, from Milwaukee, said she waited more than two hours to vote at a Milwaukee high school. The line snaked around several city blocks.
In the western Wisconsin village of Holmen, voter Christopher Sullivan said he was “ashamed to be from Wisconsin today” given the voting conditions. He described police limiting the number of people who could enter the village office, a makeshift sink where he had to wash his hands and masked poll workers.
“I have voted many times in my life (and at this location) and have never experienced something so eerie,” Sullivan said. “Because it is this unsafe to vote, maybe we should have postponed the election or done mail-in ballots.”
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was wearing protective gloves, a mask and gown while volunteering at a polling place in Burlington. He said the wait time there was about 30 minutes.
Dozens of voters, many wearing masks and standing apart from one another, waited outside the South Division High School polling place in Milwaukee as the polls opened Tuesday.
A similar long line of voters waited at Waukesha’s only polling site.
Long waiting times were expected as the number of polling places was cut due to workers concerns about contracting COVID-19.
Kristin Hansen, 53, a voting rights activist, thought about working the polls when she heard there was a need, but she decided against it because she has asthma and seasonal allergies that already cause her breathing problems.
Hansen said she finds it hard to believe Wisconsin is holding in-person voting in light of the pandemic.
National Guard members are helping staff polling places because of the shortage of workers.
Polls are open across Wisconsin on a most unusual election day.
Polls will remain open on Tuesday until 8 p.m., but voters are urged to be patient and take safety precautions.
Gov. Tony Evers tried to stop in-person voting with an order Monday, but the state Supreme Court ruled it must go on. Cities have consolidated the number of polling sites due to a shortage of workers willing to interact with the public due to the coronavirus.
Thousands of poll workers said they would not work, resulting in National Guard troops being called on to fill in the gaps.
In addition to the presidential primary, thousands of local officials are on the ballot. There is also a state Supreme Court race. Results aren’t planned to be released until Monday because absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday can still be received by then.
Wisconsin poll workers are arriving at primary voting locations around the state and some are fearful about catching and spreading the coronavirus as thousands turn out to vote despite a stay-at-home order.
A small number of voters, some wearing masks, lined up at one Milwaukee polling place before it opened Tuesday. The stood apart from one another as safety guidelines have recommended.
Rob Cronwell, 49, of Glendale, has worked the polls in the past and decided to sign up again this year knowing there would be a shortage.
Cronwell tells the Journal Sentinel he has concerns about his well-being, but considers it critical to have open, free and fair elections.
The city of Madison has made its poll workers aware of extra precautions that are being taken, including hand sanitizer, Plexiglas separations and floor marks for safe distancing.
More than 2,400 cases of coronavirus have been reported across the state as of Monday.