Officials hope preparations for August, November elections help avoid spring election issues
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – While the August primary is expected to have low turnout, it will still be an important test of the state’s election systems, which faced unprecedented strain in the spring election earlier this year.
In April, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an extraordinarily large number of voters to cast their ballot absentee by mail which overwhelmed clerks and the U.S. Postal Service. On top of that, a shortage in poll workers led to Milwaukee dramatically reducing the number of its voting locations from 180 down to just five.
With the August primary this week and the November election ahead, officials say time is the biggest factor that gives them confidence they’ll be able to avoid those issues.
“We tried to compress so much in such a short amount of time in March and April,” Wisconsin Elections Commission Public Information Officer Reid Magney said in an interview.
One change is an added barcode system to help voters track their ballots. In the spring, some voters did not receive their absentee ballots in time and had to vote in-person.
The new barcode system can help with letting voters know if they’ll have time to receive it and then send it back.
“It allowed voters to track where their ballot is in the mail as it arrived to them,” Magney said. “We’re going to have, for November, is we’re going to put the barcode on the return envelopes so you’ll be able to see where your ballot is on its journey back to your clerk.”
While the WEC and local commissions and clerks are preparing to handle their end of the process, much of it will be in the hands of the USPS. Some absentee ballots in the spring were never delivered because of postal issues. But the Postal Service believes it is prepared for the upcoming elections.
“…The Postal Service remains fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, and to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards,” a USPS spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail consistent with our standards.”
Meanwhile, Claire Woodall-Vogg is running her first election as executive director of the Milwaukee Elections Commission. Woodall-Vogg said there will be 168 polling locations on Aug. 11 with poll workers using masks and other protective equipment. There will also be plexiglass between voters and poll workers.
“About half of our poll workers tomorrow will be brand new,” Woodall-Vogg told CBS 58. “The community has really responded since April 7 and we’ve trained over 600 new poll workers in the past month. A lot of them are younger but a lot of them are just willing to step up and feel safer now that we have these safety measures in place.”
40 National Guard members are set to assist with poll worker shortages in Milwaukee while Guard members statewide are filling in to handle a shortage of about 660 poll workers.
More information on voting can be found at: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/