‘Everything is on the table:’ Officials consider COVID-19 concerns for spring election

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – City, county and state officials are taking steps to prepare for how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect the spring election.

Statewide contests include the presidential primary and the state Supreme Court race. Milwaukee county will be voting for a new county executive and voters in the City of Milwaukee will be casting ballots for mayor.

That poses a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 if turnout is high and large numbers of voters gather a polling places.

Following a Public Safety and Health Committee Meeting in Milwaukee Friday, March 13, officials said that discussions are ongoing about a possible postponement of the election or switch to all votes being mailed in.

“There is talk that [the election] may be in jeopardy,” 11th District Ald. Mark Borkowski told CBS 58. “I don’t want to alarm anybody, but right now, I think everything’s on the table. And as a candidate on the ballot, we’re all wondering ourselves. So, you know, it is what it is. We’ll all work accordingly, like everybody else has to.”

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission held a special meeting to discuss how to move forward with concerns about COVID-19 and provide guidance to municipalities throughout the state on how to manage the situation, particularly with older, vulnerable populations.

The commission voted to give the power to municipalities to move polling places without any additional approval so clerks are able to move polling places out of nursing homes and other care facilities. The WEC also voted to not allow Special Voting Deputies to go into those nursing homes and care facilities, where they would normally help older voters cast their ballots, and instead encourage a shift to mail-in ballots.

“Keeping with the guidance that we’re hearing from health care professionals,” WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe said in the special meeting, “in addition to non-essential personnel not being allowed in those care facilities, of course that means that care facilities should not be used as polling places on Election Day.”

On top of those issues, clerks across the state, including in Dane County, have staffing concerns.

“This is going to be a challenge, for sure,” Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell told CBS 58. “We’re just worried about a large number of county employees being sick.”

With less than a month to go until Election Day, officials like McDonell are trying to find solutions to address these issues, such as tapping into other sources of people power if there’s a shortage of poll workers or other essential positions.

“Maybe more county employees could help out and other folks around the community could chip in,
McDonell said. “They need to be trained, which is one of the challenges of this short time frame.”

McDonell and other clerks across the state are following guidelines from the CDC and the state Department of Health Services for maintaining polling spaces disinfected and reducing risk of exposure to the virus.

Officials are also encouraging voters to request absentee mail-in ballots in order to not vote in-person at polling places. To obtain a mail-in ballot, click here: http://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/VoteAbsentee

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