Governor Evers has ordered the suspension of Tuesday’s election, and Republican leaders have vowed to fight it in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In other words, as I write this, we are less than 18 hours from the start of live voting, and we still do not know what will happen when polls open on Tuesday.
That is a failure of leadership from our governor and lawmakers. Shame on all of them.
Let me be clear: We have been taking necessary steps to make the experience as safe as possible for voters and our poll workers. Whenever the election is held, we are planning to enforce social distancing, sanitizing, and even adding locally made acrylic barriers between workers and the public.
You can read more about the steps South Milwaukee is taking here.
No matter what happens on Tuesday, I can’t thank City Clerk Karen Kastenson and her team enough for getting us ready for this day – and to all of the poll workers (including a number of city workers being redeployed) for stepping up to help this week and beyond.
While many of our poll workers have understandably declined to work on Tuesday, at least South Milwaukee has enough to pull this off. A number of communities in the county are using National Guard members to help.
The City of Milwaukee has been forced to reduce its number of polling locations from 180 to five – five! – for a city of nearly 600,000 people. Oak Creek reduced its voting sites to one, from six. Waukesha, with a population of more than 70,000, also went to just one.
Thankfully, about 45% of registered voters in South Milwaukee have either voted or have a ballot in their hands as you read this, including the approximately 600 who voted in-person at City Hall the past two weeks.
But the reality is stark: That means more than 5,000 people have noted yet, in an election that was expected to draw more than 80% of voters to the polls. Do the math: Unless Gov. Evers’ order is upheld, we could see thousands people at the polls on Tuesday.
Of course, if the election is held, turnout will be lower, and that would be one of consequences of the inaction of our leaders in Madison. There will be disenfranchisement in this election if the election is held on Tuesday. People will “sit this one out” vs. risk infection at the polls – it’s a guarantee.
That is most likely to happen in larger cities like Milwaukee. For example, how many will choose not to vote in the Sherman Park neighborhood, the epicenter of the outbreak in Wisconsin? How many will choose not to vote because of the long lines almost certain to materialize as thousands of people show up at five Milwaukee high schools on Tuesday?
Of course, this has political implications, which is obscene to even think about here. But it most assuredly is being contemplated by some in power, just like most decisions being made in Madison these days, even in the middle of a pandemic. That is the state of our state in 2020.
Many saw this coming weeks ago.
On March 22, I joined more than 300 leaders from across the state in signing a letter to Governor Evers, Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald asking them to “take action now to reduce the risk of our residents, members of our staff and our election workers, and to avoid unnecessary disenfranchisement of voters.” I helped write the letter that the League of Wisconsin Municipalities circulated for signatures – that is how strongly I felt about this then, and still do.
We heard no response. So I wrote a personal letter on March 26. From it …
Over the weekend, you received a letter from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities co-signed by more than 300 local leaders from across the state, urgently asking you to offer us options around voting in the middle of a pandemic.
Four days later, I have seen no response, and there remains no unified action at the state level. That is a failure of leadership, and, to me, a willful choice to not respond to those who are focused on delivering this election safely and fairly as you read this. Instead, as this election moves to chaos, you offer us hand sanitizer and well wishes.
Again, I received no response. The election was to go on as scheduled.
Meanwhile, local communities did exactly what I thought they would: pursue their own fixes to try and keep the public and workers safe. Some closed early voting entirely. Some limited hours. Some offered it via drive-through, or by appointment. Some asked everyone to purposely misrepresent their situation to get around the ID requirement. Some filed lawsuits, seeking even more dramatic solutions.
Then came the last few days.
Friday’s call for a special session by Governor Evers smacked of a “too little, too late” half measure, with a predetermined outcome made real when the legislature gaveled in and gaveled out their sessions in less than a minute.
But that decision was made years earlier, the result of years of discord and divisiveness between the two parties. There is no way the legislature was going to work with the governor on a solution because in today’s zero-sum game of politics, compromise is weakness. If I’m right, you must be wrong – and you must be angrily criticized and ridiculed for taking the position you do, even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic.
Governor Evers knew Saturday’s result the minute he called for a special session. Just as legislative leaders knew what the response would be when they floated the idea the next day of allowing churches to reopen for Easter services.
In that way, this is just another example of political gamesmanship, rhetorical bomb throwing and disgusting demagoguery at a time when we can least afford viral opportunism.
So it’s no surprise we are where we are today in Wisconsin, faced with encouraging the largest gathering of people in the country in the month of April on Election Day, faced with having to act against the advice of health professionals to hold a live election that could and should be held any number of other, safer, ways.
That’s probably the worst part of this. All along, we have been saying how important it is to listen to the advice of health leaders. “Be safer at home,” they said. “Limit personal contact.” “Stay at home and save lives, and flatten the curve.”
On Tuesday, before Gov. Evers issued his 11th-hour order, we were left with no choice but to ignore their clear directives, due to dysfunction in Madison and the lack of political will to do anything about it.
Shame on all of them.