Starting two weeks ago, I began an effort to modify Wisconsin’s April 7th election. Initially, I simply encouraged Gov. Tony Evers to use his emergency powers under the public health crisis to order that all registered voters receive a mailed absentee ballot, while still allowing voters to choose to come to the polls if they chose to do so. Since that time, the coronavirus has rapidly spread, and stay at home orders are spreading with it.
So, four days ago, I urged Gov. Evers to use his emergency powers to mail the ballots and delay the election until May 12th, when the northern half of Wisconsin has a special election scheduled to replace Sean Duffy, who resigned from office. Not only has Gov. Evers refused to modify the upcoming election in any way, but the Wisconsin Republican controlled legislature, has refused to act in any way to protect voters or democracy, in what we can now safely describe as the largest voter suppression effort in history. Predictably, not a single legislator, that I am aware of, has volunteered to expose themselves to the coronavirus by working as an election official on April 7th.
I have served as an election official in almost every election since November, 2012. I truly enjoy doing so, and I believe it is a fundamental part of our democracy, which cannot function without a sufficient number of election officials. As of today, nearly 60% of Wisconsin municipalities do not have enough poll workers. This situation is likely to worsen as more election officials realize how dangerous it is to work at the polls. In fact, the City of Waukesha has already decided to reduce its polling locations to only one site!
This morning, with only one week left before the scheduled election, I realized that I had to decide whether I would risk my life and my wife’s life, by working at the polls or not, because the Madison City Clerk needs to plan accordingly. Before making that decision, I watched the required training video (all in person training sessions were cancelled due to the health crisis) that all election officials are required to watch. While it contains alleged protections against the coronavirus, I do not believe that hand washing and hand sanitizer, as well as spreading people out, will sufficiently protect poll workers or voters.
As of 6:30 PM on March 30th, the Wisconsin Election Commission reports (WEC) the poll worker shortage as follows:
Poll Worker Shortage
Number of Jurisdictions
Critical – jurisdiction cannot staff even one polling place
Serious – jurisdiction is unable to staff all desired polling places
Concerning – jurisdiction has fewer staff than needed for efficient operations
Stable – jurisdiction has enough poll workers to function efficiently
Did not report a status
Despite this, the WEC has also failed to protect the health of poll workers, voters and miserably failed to protect democracy, as it simply advises that:
Inspectors may use letter openers to open absentee envelopes to minimize contact with envelopes if preferred, but no additional precautions are recommended for the storage or handling of ballots. The CDC does recommend good hand hygiene for election inspectors that are processing absentee ballots. Other public health guidance that the WEC has produced in consultation with a health official recommended that poll workers wash or sanitizer their hands after handling ballots and before moving on to other tasks. It’s also recommended that poll workers break every 10 minutes, or when feasible, to wash their hands or sanitize.
So, a short time ago, I wrote the following e-mail to the Madison City Clerk:
It is with deep regret that my efforts to convince the Governor to modify the election to a full mail-in ballot and to postpone it to May 12th, have not yet succeeded. While I will keep up my efforts, I know that you need to plan as if the election is going forward.
As my wife is a lung cancer survivor, and every single credible health entity is advising every single person who can stay at home to do so, I cannot put myself and my wife at risk by working my shift at Tenney Park.
There is one condition in which I would work, which is that if the election is modified, or if you decide to have one or more sites where only the minimum required 3 election officials are simply processing absentee ballots, I am willing to take the small health risk of being with 2 other people, to help process absentee ballots. However, I will not expose myself to the general public and a team of election officials if the polls are open as usual.
So, let me know if you need me to work in a closed environment to process absentee ballots. Otherwise, I regret to inform you that I cannot work my shift on April 7th.
Of course, since a week remains before the scheduled election, it is not too late for responsible officials, Gov. Evers, Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and the Wisconsin Election Commission to protect the public’s health and democracy, by ordering a full mail-in election with a delay until May 12th. You can urge them to do this by clicking on their names which will direct you to their contact pages. If they fail to act, we can only hope that one or more of the courts who are hearing challenges to holding the election due to the crisis will act to delay the election.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.