Amid the global coronavirus outbreak and over the objections of a governor who tried to stop it at the last minute, Wisconsin held its election yesterday for the Democratic presidential nomination, state Supreme Court and several local offices. We won’t have actual results until Monday at the earliest, but at this point, we do know that the election experienced a number of setbacks.
Across the state, a shortage of poll workers led to the closure and consolidation of many polling places, which resulted in extremely long lines on Election Day. For example, Milwaukee — a city of almost 600,000 people — had just five polling places open (in normal circumstances, it would have 180 polling places). As a result, wait times in Milwaukee averaged one and a half to two hours, with some voters waiting as long as two and a half hours to cast their ballots. In Green Bay, a city of 105,000 that downsized from 31 polling places to just two, some voters waited nearly three hours. Long lines were also reported in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, which was forced to consolidate to one polling place for its population of 70,000. But in cities where fewer polling places closed, there seemed to be fewer hiccups. For example, Madison (a city less than half Milwaukee’s size) kept 66 polling places open (compared with 92 normally), and there were no major reports of lines at them.
Everywhere, though, election officials took extraordinary measures to keep voters safe. Plexiglass barriers were erected at many polling places to separate poll workers from voters. And in Fitchburg, a suburb of Madison, poll workers were instructed to wipe down voting equipment every 15 minutes. In the small city of Lake Mills, voter Jonathan McLaughlin told FiveThirtyEight he was given hand sanitizer on his way into the polling place, and each voter was given a fresh Bic pen with which to vote (they were told to either keep it or throw it away when they were done). And according to Kelly Westlund, who was working the polls in Ashland, a city of 8,000 in northern Wisconsin, she and her team sanitized their hands and the voting equipment regularly and made sure voters kept at least six feet apart. All the poll workers in Ashland were also provided with masks from local hat manufacturer Stormy Kromer.