Steve Peoples and Scott Bauer, Associated Press, April 8, 2020
If Wisconsin was a test case for voting in the age of the coronavirus, it did not go well for many voters.
Thousands were forced to congregate for hours in long lines on Tuesday with no protective gear. Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health and unable to be counted because requested absentee ballots never arrived.
Voters reported being afraid, angry, and embarrassed by the state’s unwillingness to postpone their presidential primary elections as more than a dozen other states have already done. Neither Joe Biden nor Bernie Sanders will be declared a winner at least until next Monday in accordance with one of several court orders that shaped the contest.
Going forward with the election was especially problematic in the state’s largest city, Milwaukee, where roughly 4 in 10 residents are black. The city of 590,000 has suffered roughly half the state’s coronavirus deaths, many of them minorities. Officials closed all but five of the city’s 180 polling places, forcing thousands of voters to congregate at only a handful of voting sites.
Evidence showed that minority voters were disproportionately impacted by widespread poll closures in their communities.
Michael Claus, an African American man, said he requested an absentee ballot in March but it never showed up. His only option was to vote in person, so in a protective mask and Tuskegee Airmen cap he waited to vote.
He blamed the Republican-controlled state legislature for the situation.
“They could have delayed the election with no problem,” Mr. Claus said. “They decided if they can suppress the vote in Milwaukee and Madison, where you have a large minority presence, you can get people elected you want elected. And that’s sad.”
Democrats accused Republicans of holding to the Tuesday election date in part to benefit from reduced turnout in the state’s most populous cities, which lean Democratic. Reduced turnout there would benefit a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who is on the ballot for re-election.
“If black voices are not represented in the vote and in decisions that are made by folks that are elected, their communities suffer,” said Ryeshia Farmer with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “They don’t receive the same amount of resources, the same amount of funding in their communities. Long term, this will have a ripple effect.”
Keisha Robinson of Milwaukee works to mobilize voters with BLOC – Black Leaders Organizing Communities. Ms. Robinson herself requested an absentee ballot from the city on Thursday, a day before the deadline.
She had her fingers crossed that it would arrive in Tuesday’s mail. When it didn’t, Ms. Robinson had to decide whether to go vote in person. Feeling scared due to her immune system that she says “is not so strong,” she decided against it.
In Madison, city workers erected Plexiglas barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark the ballots.