Long Lines, Masks And Plexiglas Barriers Greet Wisconsin Voters At Polls

Long Lines, Masks And Plexiglas Barriers Greet Wisconsin Voters At Polls

4:34pm Apr 07, 2020
Voters masked to protect from the coronavirus line up at Riverside High School in Milwaukee. Voting went forward in the state, despite the ongoing pandemic.
Voters masked to protect from the coronavirus line up at Riverside High School in Milwaukee. Voting went forward in the state, despite the ongoing pandemic.
Morry Gash / AP
  • Voters masked to protect from the coronavirus line up at Riverside High School in Milwaukee. Voting went forward in the state, despite the ongoing pandemic.

    Voters masked to protect from the coronavirus line up at Riverside High School in Milwaukee. Voting went forward in the state, despite the ongoing pandemic.

    Morry Gash / AP

  • A couple checks in to cast their ballots at the Kenosha Bible Church gym in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday.

    A couple checks in to cast their ballots at the Kenosha Bible Church gym in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday.

    Kamil Kraczynski / AFP via Getty Images

  • Peter Quinn is chief election inspector for a ward in Madison.

    Peter Quinn is chief election inspector for a ward in Madison.

    Shawn Johnson / WPR

  • A man casts his ballot in a Democratic presidential primary at Journey Church in Kenosha, Wis.

    A man casts his ballot in a Democratic presidential primary at Journey Church in Kenosha, Wis.

    Kamil Kraczynski / AFP via Getty Images

  • People wait in line to vote at Hamilton High School in Milwaukee.

    People wait in line to vote at Hamilton High School in Milwaukee.

    Kamil Kraczynski / AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 4:33 p.m. ET

After an 11th-hour scramble, Wisconsin forged ahead with its election Tuesday, despite widespread fears about the coronavirus outbreak and an ongoing stay-at-home order from the governor.

Though hundreds of thousands of voters cast absentee ballots ahead of time, many still turned out to vote in person Tuesday.

What they found: plenty of masks and cleaning supplies, jury-rigged Plexiglas barriers and long, socially distanced lines.

In some municipalities, longer lines were to be expected, due to a shortage of thousands of poll workers that led election officials to have to consolidate voting locations.

The city of Milwaukee, with a total population near 600,000, had just five polling places open on Tuesday, compared with about 180 during normal times. Here, from WUWM reporter Teran Powell, is a look at one location:

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said some voters in the city waited two hours to cast ballots, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

In line at Milwaukee's Washington High School, Sharron Elliott told WPR that she requested an absentee ballot on March 3, but never received it.

Elliott called the situation "unconscionable."

The controversial election came just hours after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delay in-person voting until June 9, followed by a U.S. Supreme Court order to cut off an extension for absentee voting.

Republican legislative leaders had opposed Evers' push for an election delay, calling it an "unconstitutional overreach."

Wisconsin's presidential primaries were Tuesday, but it also held a number of state and local elections. Many of those offices have terms that begin later this month.

Voters can submit absentee ballots until 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday, the result of Monday night's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Wisconsin went forward with its election, though many other states have delayed voting in recent weeks, citing public health concerns.

"Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that has failed to step up and respond responsibly and safely to the current national health pandemic emergency," Jay Heck, director of voting rights group Common Cause in Wisconsin, said in a statement.

The state has been under a stay-home order since March 25. As of Tuesday morning, Wisconsin had more than 2,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 85 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Opponents of the GOP effort to keep election day as is expressed concern that moving forward as planned would lead to a further spread of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"I'm not comfortable, but I feel like it's my obligation. So I'm doing it," said Patty Fitzpatrick, chief election inspector for the city of Rhinelander in northern Wisconsin.

More than half of the regular poll workers in Rhinelander chose not to work Tuesday.

Fitzpatrick, who is 70 years old, described herself as high risk for catching the virus and said she plans to remain in self-isolation for two weeks after Tuesday.

"For me personally, I feel like it's counterintuitive when we are asked to stay at home ... yet our legislature thinks it's all right to have a room full of 20 or so people voting," Fitzpatrick said.

Rhinelander City Clerk Val Foley disagreed. "I was hoping that it maybe would be postponed until the peak of this coronavirus was over, just for the sake of health," Foley said. "But at this point, let's just get it done."

For more on what Wisconsin's primary means for the Democratic presidential primary, check out our FAQ here.

With reporting by Ben Meyer of WXPR

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