As a growing number of public officials and advocates call for statewide mail-in voting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers asking for assistance in holding in-person voting on April 7.
The letter, from WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe, asks for the governor to help secure a supply of sanitation resources for local election officials, recruit and train new poll workers and assign a public health liaison to the elections agency.
“As of today, local election officials do not have access to the people or supplies needed,” Wolfe said. “This leaves voters, clerks, and poll workers to make difficult choices. Voters should not have to choose between voting or staying healthy. Poll workers should not have to choose between serving their community or staying healthy. Our local election officials should not have to choose between facilitating democracy or staying healthy.”
All three requests were pieces of a six-part motion the Elections Commission approved earlier this week, affirming that in-person voting would be held. In the letter, Wolfe said she believes the election can take place safely if the requested assistance is provided.
She said so far, many local officials have not been able to gain access to adequate supplies of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes — which the CDC recommended be on site at voting locations.
“This is not a problem we have 18 days to solve, this is a problem today,” Wolfe said. “The statutory requirements for in-person absentee and registration paired with the exemption of voting locations from the prohibition on gatherings more than 10 people, our local election officials are reporting they feel as though they are in limbo as we speak.”
The shortage of sanitizing products is compounded by a shortage of poll workers. The normal stock of volunteer workers is older than 60, a population especially vulnerable to the disease. Wolfe said the commission and local officials have been attempting — unsuccessfully — to recruit new workers and help from the governor is needed.
“Local election officials around the state have expressed that they have exhausted their lists of backup poll workers; many poll workers have already conveyed they will be unable to serve,” Wolfe said. “Local election officials have already begun recruiting students, government employees, and private industry employees to serve as poll workers and are continuing to find they are short the needed number.”
As the Elections Commission continues to provide guidance to local officials around the state, Wolfe said it’s important the governor assigns an official to the agency so the most up-to-date information can be provided to clerks.
“As guidance changes daily, we are left to wonder if what we have provided is sufficient and will help to protect clerks and voters,” Wolfe said. “I ask you to assign the Elections Commission a Public Health expert dedicated to our office through this crisis.”
Despite all of this, political parties, local officials and advocacy groups around the state have called for changes to election law, with most predicting the pandemic will likely be worse, not better, by April 7.
On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in federal court to extend deadlines and suspend voter ID requirements due to the spread of the virus. Republican legislators have hired an attorney to oppose the lawsuit and on Friday, the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Wisconsin urged the federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge William Conley has said he will rule quickly in the lawsuit.
Here is the full text of the WEC Letter to the governor.