COVID-19 and Wisconsin Elections | Wis.Community

COVID-19 and Wisconsin Elections

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The COVID-19 outbreak is throwing elections into a turmoil in Wisconsin. Not the normal Wisconsin election turmoil, but a whole lot of complication.  

Much of the dilemma revolves around the simple question: "How do you hold an election and keep the public safe from the outbreak? " There is no easy answer to that, but people are trying. On Wednesday the State Elections Commission held an in an attempt to define the issues and to find some solutions. There were plenty of issues and a shortage of solutions. The call ranged from mundane issues of whether the state could supply hand sanitizer to the polls, to the truly painful question of whether the April 7 election could be postponed, or the law changed to extend the period of voter registration and absentee ballot requests. There were very few answers, but most of the motion on the table was approved, which included the following points:

2)WEC staff is directed to develop best practices related to minimizing potential viral transmission during election processes

3) WEC urgently requests the Governor and DHS to help secure a supply of hand sanitizer and other sanitation resources for our clerks and polling places.

4)WEC administrator Wolfe is authorized to spend up to $200,000 on additional supplies needed for absentee voting such as envelopes, labels or sanitation supplies.

5) WEC encourages clerks to recruit and train additional poll workers in advance of the election.

6) WEC encourages all Wisconsin voters to request an absentee ballot thru MyVote.WI.gov and to return the ballot by mail.

7) WEC directs all municipal clerks to accommodate in-person absentee voting and registration as required by state law making any changes needed based on local circumstances to the location, hours and processes used.

This has become crucial partly because the number of absentee

The commission was unable to come to a conclusion on item 1 in the memo because it appeared to be unworkable. This involved changing the deadlines for the April 7 election for registration and requesting absentee ballots. This would require action on the part of the state legislature in a special session. The commission is continuing to explore possibilities but it would seem extremely unlikely the law could be changed at this late date without causing many new unforeseen issues.

No sooner did that meeting end than the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Democratic National Committee  against the Election Commission, demanding that 

  • The now-past deadline for registration for the April 7 election be pushed back to April 3
  • The deadline for receipt for absentee ballots be moved to 10 days after the election as long as the ballot was postmarked before  the election. Current law requires that the ballots be received by 8 PM on election day
  • Suspend the current requirement for voter id on mail-in ballots and proof of residence for voter registration

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said voters were put in the position of choosing "between exposure to COVID-19 and disenfranchisement. "

 Their intention is to have the Joint Committee on Finance give them blanket authority until the end of the year for the state legislature to intervene in any cases involving the state's election laws.  This is possible due to one of the laws passed in the lame-duck session after Gov. Evers was elected. The law gives the legislature broad authority to intervene in some cases because the Republicans did not trust Attorney General Josh Kaul to defend state law adequately in some cases.

As things stand it appears likely that the election will go on as originally planned. If you are concerned about your ability to vote in person consider applying for an absentee ballot. This is still possible until April 2 assuming you are already registered to vote. If you are not registered to vote you will still be able to register at the polls on April 7 assuming that the state is not put into a complete lockdown. You may register for an absentee ballot at but please be cognizant of the fact that clerks throughout the state are reeling under an unprecedented number of absentee ballot requests. Today is better than tomorrow.

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Wisconsin COVID-19 Confirmed Cases

Data through 3/26 from New York Times, after from Wisconsin DHS

Published

March 19, 2020
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