At Milwaukee Central Count, tight security and a squad of observers

By: - November 8, 2022 3:14 pm

Milwaukee Central Count, Election Day 2022
Milwaukee Central Count, Election Day 2022, mid-day (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

As noon crept closer to 1 p.m. Tuesday, things appeared calm at Central Count in the city of Milwaukee. Normally held in a warehouse on south Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bayview, Central Count was moved to the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee.

A lack of overt law enforcement presence didn’t detract from the fact that security was indeed tight. Milwaukee PD squads took up lone positions in nearby parking lots. At one point, an officer of the Milwaukee PD’s Traffic Safety Unit walked through the massive room where central count was being held, before entering in one of the side doors closed off to the general public.

Before entering the facility itself everyone needs to first go through airport-like security and metal detection. One worker who helped sign up media as they entered the Wisconsin Center told the Wisconsin Examiner that she’d never seen so much security for a central count before.

No protesters or demonstrators were around, either outside the building nor inside. Still, more than 10 observers lingered about the large room. On the right and left side of the room, several pods of poll workers sat at tables feeding ballots into machines. Media were instructed to not photograph anything that could be identifying, such as what a ballot or piece of paperwork says.

The poll workers’ tables were also behind modest barriers that no one was allowed to cross. At one point, however, a Wisconsin Examiner reporter noticed an observer go behind the barrier and take a picture of paperwork on a table near POD 8. When asked, staff members who were helping admit media said that did not appear to be proper.

Other observers attempted to have extended discussions with the poll workers. At one point, an announcement came over a loudspeaker reminding observers that they are not to ask poll workers who they’ll vote for or otherwise discuss politics with the workers.

One observer stated she wasn’t allowed to talk to media, but said she was with Wisconsin Dems. An observer who looked to be in his late 20s, Nathan Michael, agreed to an interview. “I wanted just to be a pair of eyes because I knew that I had been lazy about the whole process,” Michael told the Wisconsin Examiner. “You hear everything in the media from 2020 to 2018 and on, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do my part,’ because I am blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to vote.”

Michael added: “We don’t have a dictator, we actually have a constitutional republic, but we vote democratically.”

Michael, who is from the village of Tigerton, about two hours away from Milwaukee, said he wasn’t with an organization. “I just came with my friend,” he said. “Levy and I said, ‘Hey we’re two young dudes, lets try this and see what all the hubub is about.”

Shortly before speaking to the Wisconsin Examiner, Michael was pulled aside by an older woman whom he referred to as one of his “colleagues.” Several poll observers appeared to be working together, communicating with one another, pacing the room and taking notes and pictures of the process.

Michael said that although he didn’t observe anything concerning at the moment, “There are some things that I might have preference for or against, but right now it’s just to see what it’s like.”

Before visiting Central Count, Michael stated he didn’t know how certain aspects, like counting absentee ballots, worked. “So I said for something so important as choosing the political candidate, I should probably do my duty and know more because the bible says, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ So, the more you know, the more you’re required to do.”

Central Count officials reported that 66,996 absentee ballots were issued in the city of Milwaukee. Of those, 60,194 were returned by Nov. 7, leaving over 6,600 “outstanding” ballots. Wisconsin is just one of seven states that does not allow any absentee ballot processing before 7 a.m. on Election Day, when election workers begin processing the documents. City elections officials estimated that ballot counting could be completed between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Tuesday.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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