Thursday afternoon, a decision by U.S. District Judge William Conley extended the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot for the 2020 Spring Election to Friday, April 3 at 5 p.m. The deadline for counting those ballots has been extended to April 13. Other than that, the election will go on as planned on April 7. And Milwaukee officials are not happy about that.
During an online media briefing held shortly after the decision was announced, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele expressed his dismay at the news, noting that Wisconsin is currently the only state still holding an in-person presidential primary election in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I don’t think delaying an election is going to kill anybody,” Abele said. “But if we hold this election it is a 100-percent certainty that we will have more transmission than we otherwise would, and that will lead to more loss of life.”
He reiterated his point moments later: “Delaying an election isn’t going to kill anybody, holding it is going to lead to more loss of life and more transmission.”
On Wednesday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed his dismay over the still-planned election. He stressed the importance of voting absentee, and of delivering completed ballots to drop boxes throughout the city.
Though many in-person polling places throughout Milwaukee County have been closed due to health concerns and dwindling numbers of poll workers, some will remain open on election day. Gov. Tony Evers has authorized the National Guard to help staff those locations.
On Thursday morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a strongly worded op-ed entitled “As coronavirus rages in Wisconsin, it is no time to have an in-person election. Postpone it or convert to mail-in balloting.” It reads, in part:
And aside from this obvious risk to public health, there is a real risk to electoral credibility.
If the election is held, turnout is likely to be abysmal, which may disenfranchise large blocs of voters and call into question the results. A federal judge this week invited those who brought lawsuits challenging the election to return to court afterward if they believe large numbers of people were disenfranchised.
Abele prefaced his remarks on Thursday by saying “putting off this election is something I believe is still possible,” though he did not elaborate.
Milwaukee County reported 918 positive COVID-19 cases and 18 related deaths on Thursday. Of those 918 positive cases, 722 are in the City of Milwaukee.