As many Wisconsinites cast their ballots across the state, some felt they had to choose between their rights and their health while others were unable to vote because of last-minute changes.
Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order yesterday to delay the election until June because of the coronavirus threat, but the State Supreme Court struck down the move in a 4-2 decision, a decision celebrated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
Vos went out to a curbside polling site in Racine County to serve as an election inspector and said during a Facebook live stream it was “incredibly safe” to go vote while he was wearing personal protective equipment and a mask.
“There's less exposure here than you would get if you went to the grocery store, or you went to Walmart, or you did any of the many things we have to do to live in the state of Wisconsin," Vos said.
Some voters and workers across the state felt less safe during the elections.
Alder Sally Rohrer of District 8 in Madison volunteered at the polling location at Union South today. Dane County was short 700 poll workers because of concerns over the coronavirus, Rohrer said, so she was pressed into volunteering.
While polling sites across the state prepared measures to try to limit the spread such as giving out masks and gloves, as well as providing hand sanitizer, Rohrer said there were still some gaps.
Rohrer had to bring her own mask and even brought extra, which she said was “understandable.” Her mom gave her extra masks to limit the spread at the polling location despite working as a nurse practitioner in the emergency department at a Milwaukee hospital.
Rohrer said her district — which is most of the UW-Madison campus — had very low return of absentee ballots. For all southeast dorms, only 79 ballots had been collected.
Rohrer thinks there’s going to be low voter turnout everywhere. She said she knew a lot of people who requested absentee ballots weeks ago and still hadn’t received them in the mail.
Alice Alexeeva, a senior at UW, left Madison to return home to Virginia after a brief spring break. Once she realized she was going to be back in Virginia for good, she said she applied for an absentee ballot “pretty early.”
Alexeeva said she had other friends who requested an absentee ballot but didn’t get one in time, who lived in Wisconsin. She said although the friends had to make a tough decision between their civic duty and health risks, at least they had an option.
“I just wasn’t able to vote at all,” Alexeeva said.
Michelle Lazar, a junior at UW-Madison, was in a similar boat.
While she is in Chicago with her family, she votes in Juneau County. Lazar had never had an issue with requesting an absentee ballot before — she voted absentee in the past three elections — but did not heard back from the Clerk’s office for weeks. Lazar also helped her parents request absentee ballots but they never received them.
Lazar’s parents moved to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia and said they always took pride in being able to vote in American elections, making the inability to vote today exasperating for her family.
“The fact that as an entire family we’re unable to vote simply because our ballots weren’t delivered is very frustrating,” Lazar said.
Voting absentee in lieu of in-person voting was championed by both Democrats and Republicans to attempt to protect public health. However, as of Tuesday morning, of almost 1.3 million of the requested ballots, only about 860,000 returned.
A court challenge also made absentee ballots harder to get counted. Initially, a federal court extended absentee votes to be accepted if they were postmarked before April 13. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the extension, which forced Wisconsinites who requested absentee ballots and had yet to receive them choose between voting in-person or not voting at all.
While Mia Ogorchock, a senior at UW-Madison and Milwaukee native, had no issue voting in Madison where she is registered, her mom told her she couldn’t vote before work because the line looked like it would have taken hours to get through.
In Milwaukee, only five polling locations were open compared to the normal 180 polling sites, which led to nearly two-hour long waits at polling locations like Riverside University High School where Ogorchock’s mother waited to vote.
Zoe Bockhorst, a sophomore at UW-Madison, also voted at Riverside High School in Milwaukee Tuesday.
Bockhorst was waiting for her absentee ballot to arrive before the primary. When it didn’t arrive in the mail Tuesday, she made the decision to vote in person.
Bockhorst said it was a hard decision because of the possibility of getting coronavirus and spreading it. For her, voting was “stressful” because compared to the voting lines when she checked that morning, people were closer together while waiting to vote.
“Right now I’m back from school living with my family. The scariest thing I could think of was getting coronavirus at the polls and bringing it back and getting everyone else sick,” Bockhorst said. “It took me a while to decide, ‘Yes, I’m going to vote.’”
Bockhorst said it was a difficult feeling to wrestle with in deciding to vote, saying she normally encourages everyone to vote and exercise their civic responsibility. She noted someone from a voting organization who called her today said they weren’t “urging anyone to vote."
Some of the voters traced their voting frustrations back to the controversial decisions to continue with the election.
Ogorchock felt the move to keep the election today was a “gross act of power grabbing” by Wisconsin Republicans and felt they put many people in danger and risked extending the need for a quarantine.
“For a political party claiming to want to reopen the economy as soon as possible, this seemed to go against those desires,” Ogorchock said. “This was a completely unsafe and undemocratic day that disproportionately affected people of color, disabled people and immunocompromised people.”
Rohrer was very frustrated by the actions of Republican legislators and both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts to not delay the election until after the outbreak. After seeing videos of elderly citizens waiting in line to vote, she said she’s terrified of how many people are at risk and could die.
“I think what we’ve been made to do by Republican legislators, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court is tantamount to murder,” Rohrer said. “I cannot wrap my head around a reason besides wanting to depress voter turnout that someone would maintain an in-person election in a pandemic.”