Some People Got to Vote Today

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ImageVoting in Wisconsin today.

It’s an Election Day, which often means your Tuesday evening edition of the On Politics newsletter focuses on what to watch for in the day’s primaries.

But in Wisconsin — the first state to hold in-person voting while its residents are under a “safer at home” order — there will be no results reported until April 13, thanks to a messy back-and-forth of court decisions that mired the elections in chaos and confusion.

So we don’t have much to watch for tonight, because we won’t know any results.

What we do know is that in Milwaukee, the biggest city in the state and the base of Democratic voters in Wisconsin, voting has been a public health and civic catastrophe.

At each of the city’s five polling sites (in a normal year, there are 180 locations), voters waited more than two hours to cast their ballot, as lines of hundreds of people stretched for blocks. Many wore masks and kept six feet of distance in line, but not all.

The scene was markedly different outside Wisconsin’s main urban areas. Officials in rural counties — especially Republican officials — reported few problems at the polls. In Sheboygan County, about an hour north of Milwaukee up the Lake Michigan shore, the local Republican chairman, Dennis Gasper, said he drove around to polling places this morning and found no issues.

A lot of voters did not want to go to the polls: Nearly 1.3 million absentee ballots were requested through Monday, though only about 860,000 had been returned. And stories poured in today of voters unable to cast their ballots.

  • Hannah Gleeson, 34, is a health care worker who lives in Milwaukee, is 17 weeks pregnant and recently tested positive for the coronavirus. She requested a ballot more than a week ago, but it never arrived in the mail, and she cannot vote in person or she would be putting hundreds at risk.

  • Marcelia Nicholson is a supervisor and vice chair for Milwaukee County and is up for re-election today. But she was recently exposed to the virus and her absentee ballot was delayed in arriving, so she may not get to vote for herself.

  • Jill Swenson, 61, a literary agent, is self-quarantining in her Appleton home. A widow, she lives alone, has a chronic lung disease and fears contracting the coronavirus. She requested an absentee ballot, but is unable to find a witness to sign her ballot. “I don’t know anyone who has been self-isolating who could be a witness for me,” she said.

  • Laura Arvold’s rural Oneida County home has been a refuge for an immunocompromised relative who moved temporarily from Milwaukee. Amid the pandemic and the governor’s “safe at home” order, and lawsuits from liberal-leaning groups, she and her husband thought the election would be postponed, and didn’t request a ballot in time.

So, amid this confusion, one of the most pivotal swing states in the country held its spring elections today, with a closely watched State Supreme Court race hanging in the balance. Though the polls close at 8 p.m. Central time, it’s likely that the weeks that follow will be filled with even more legal challenges.

So stay tuned, and stay safe.


Yesterday, Lisa asked our Wisconsinite readers for their stories of voting during a pandemic. Our inboxes were quickly flooded. Thank you to everyone who replied; it helped inform our reporting, and we love hearing from our readers.

Here are some of your responses, edited and condensed:

‘A sad day in Wisconsin’

My husband and I requested absentee ballots and never received them. We are seniors who always vote and today we will not vote. Human lives are at stake and the safe thing to do is to stay in place and not vote. It is a sad day in Wisconsin and our representatives did not do the honorable act by standing by the governor and postponing the election. Then the Wisconsin Supreme Court also failed Wisconsin.

— Bonnie Ehlert, Cambridge, Wis.

‘Very nervous about going in’

I am a poll worker and will be responsible for counting/validating absentee ballots at tomorrow’s election. I was relieved initially to see that Tony Evers, our governor, had been successful at postponing the election. Shortly after, I got the call: It was back on. I am a Democrat, and very nervous about going in tomorrow. I am 62 with no health issues but I understand the gravity of the situation. I feel responsible to our democracy to support this process but I’m very conflicted. Initially I requested an absentee ballot but never received the ballot in the mail. After waiting 11 days, I went into our clerk’s office to vote early.

— Jennifer Patterson, Brookfield, Wis.

‘Endangering so many lives’

I have worked elections for the City of Milwaukee Elections Commission since 2007. Every little one, and every federal election including the presidential elections of 2008, 2012 and 2016, and I plan to work November 2020. I sure don’t do it for the money, I’ve been in the investment business for 35 years.

I am sick from the idea that Wisconsin’s Republican leaders believe that winning a 10-year seat on the Supreme Court is worth endangering so many lives, let alone mine. That is the only reason this election will be conducted in person tomorrow.

I plan on going to Washington High School at 6 a.m. Tuesday to perform my civic duty.

— Tom Shanahan, Milwaukee

‘He waited until the last minute’

We had notice well in advance about doing absentee voting due to the impending virus. So for the first time in my life, I applied for an absentee ballot, had no trouble in receiving it, and voted and sent it in. Those who waited until the last minute seem to be the ones who are now upset about it.

A while back our Governor Evers was adamant that the election was going on as scheduled when several other states were already changing their election dates. He waited until the last minute to cancel the April 7 election. He had plenty of time to do it right.

So sad that the pointing-fingers and blame game is running amok now. It didn’t have to be this way.

— Shirley Grunloh, Oshkosh, Wis.

‘I thanked the poll workers’

I attempted to obtain an absentee ballot last week so I could vote by mail, but I haven’t received it yet. So I decided to go in person this morning. My polling place in Madison was quite quiet at 9:15 and well staffed. They had personnel outside to take care of curbside voting. Everyone was wearing a mask and gloves. Inside, there was only one other voter. The poll workers were seated behind a glass partition. I was in and out in five minutes. I thanked the poll workers for being willing to work under these conditions.

— Tom Dale, Madison, Wis.

‘All the workers looked like surgeons’

I just turned in my absentee ballot as a first-time voter. My polling place was largely abandoned, except for a few poll workers. All the workers looked like surgeons prepping for an operation with the amount of P.P.E. they had on, and I believe there were glass dividers between the voting booths to minimize the spread of germs.

— Ryan Witz, Oregon, Wis.

‘The least safe thing most of us will do this week’

I was at my polling place when the polls opened at 7, and there was already a line of people, most of whom had requested an absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago. The poll workers were doing their best to wipe down the voting stations and to stay safe, but there were multiple times when people stood too closely without realizing it, and one person accidentally sneezed on the check-in desk. This was the least safe thing most of us will do this week. I have been so careful, and I may have just negated all my efforts to keep myself and my family safe because I needed to vote. There was generally a feeling of frustration and resignation at the polls — but also feelings of defiance and suspicion of authority — and that is not the spirit that we should be fostering in our communities right now.

— Christine Roth, Oshkosh, Wis.

Thanks to Isabella Grullón Paz for her help compiling our readers’ responses, and to Reid J. Epstein and Stephanie Saul for contributing reporting.

Photographs at top:
In Milwaukee: Lauren Justice for The New York Times; Scott Olson/Getty Images; Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock
In Kenosha, Wis.: Derek R. Henkle/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


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