When it grew to become clear Wisconsin’s April 7 election wasn’t going to be postponed, Dean Kaufert turned to MacGyver, the star of a well-liked ’80s TV present, for inspiration.
“MacGyver at all times improvised issues, to make issues work,” he mentioned.
Kaufert, the mayor of a metropolis in northeast Wisconsin referred to as Neenah, was a part of a coalition of mayors who pushed arduous for the election to be postponed as coronavirus infections unfold within the state.
The mayors mentioned it was going to be not possible for his or her native clerks to soundly and successfully administer the election amid the pandemic.
However their pleas went nowhere. Federal lawsuits seeking to delay the election failed and the Republican-controlled state legislature refused to make any modifications to the election date or current election legal guidelines.
“Everybody was telling me, ‘Dean, it is not going to occur. The election goes to maneuver ahead,’ ” Kaufert mentioned. “I mentioned, ‘If that is the case, then we will do no matter we will to assist shield the protection and well being of our staff and my residents.’ “
Therefore MacGyver. Kaufert requested a metropolis upkeep employee to construct Plexiglas limitations to place between ballot staff and voters. Kaufert was impressed by screens he noticed in his metropolis’s finance division, which had simply been renovated.
“I sketched one thing out on paper and gave it to my upkeep man and inside six hours he had a prototype for me,” he mentioned.
By the subsequent week, 26 Plexiglas limitations have been located in entrance of ballot staff serving to individuals solid early ballots within the metropolis of 25,000.
Voters examine in utilizing touchscreen digital ballot books. To cut back the danger of touching a probably contaminated floor, Kaufert did some Googling and found out easy methods to make reusable writing utensils out of Q-tips and tinfoil.
Then Kaufert tracked down the homeowners of an empty division retailer.
Courtesy of Dean Kaufert
“And we’re now holding the election on this 90,000-square-foot constructing with ample area, so everybody can comply with the [social distancing] pointers beneficial by the CDC,” he mentioned.
Kaufert is especially pleased the shop has automated doorways, so nobody must contact handles on the best way in or out, and that the constructing has been vacant for a number of months, so there is not any danger of it being contaminated with the virus by earlier tenants.
Regardless of all of those efforts and relative success, Kaufert mentioned he is nonetheless “mad as hell” the election is occurring as scheduled.
Many individuals in Wisconsin agree.
A scarcity of seven,000 ballot staff statewide
Hundreds of ballot staff in Wisconsin have been put within the unenviable place of deciding whether or not to do their job on Election Day or keep protected at dwelling.
Daina Zemliauskas was scheduled to be a chief inspector at her polling place in Madison and mentioned she was delivered to tears by the choice.
“I really feel responsible. I wished to carry out,” Zemliauskas mentioned. “However, in fact, the danger was simply too nice.”
She spent three excruciating hours writing a resignation e mail to her metropolis clerk. She mentioned the response she acquired again was “terse,” however understands clerks are underneath unimaginable stress proper now.
“I assumed, why ought to I put myself, my household and my neighborhood in danger?” she mentioned. “You recognize, that is simply outrageous. It is insanity.”
Like the vast majority of Wisconsin ballot staff, Zemliauskas is older than 60, placing her at larger danger of extreme signs if she contracts COVID-19.
Final week, Wisconsin’s elections company used a state airplane to fly emergency provides like isopropyl alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer and greater than one million disposable pens to clerks throughout the state, in an try to shore up well being and sanitation measures at polling locations.
However Zemliauskas’ fears — and people of many others — weren’t assuaged by that effort.
Based on the state elections company, clerks at the moment are coping with a scarcity of about 7,000 ballot staff throughout the state.
As of final week, Neil Albrecht, the top of elections in Milwaukee, mentioned he was working with solely 400 of his normal 1,400 election staff.
He mentioned he does not blame his would-be employees for backing out.
“I come from a spot of election employee and public security before everything, after which in fact entry to voting, however on the finish of the day we should not be placing our election staff or the general public in danger,” he mentioned.
Wisconsin’s largest metropolis usually has 180 polling locations on Election Day however Albrecht mentioned on Tuesday, will probably be down to 5 for your complete metropolis.
Advocacy teams warn of voter disenfranchisement
For weeks, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has been urging individuals to vote by mail.
However by legislation, requesting a mail-in poll in Wisconsin entails utilizing a smartphone to add a replica of a legitimate ID for voting, or having the expertise to make a bodily copy of the ID to ship within the mail.
Many say these choices are not possible for some voters, notably senior residents and low-income individuals.
“We have been taking actually a whole lot, if not 1000’s, of cellphone calls per day from voters involved about how they’ll vote,” Albrecht mentioned.
Mary Ellen Spiegelberg of West Allis referred to as her native clerk a number of instances making an attempt to request a mail-in poll, however was having hassle with the technical necessities.
“I am nonetheless utilizing a Tracfone flip cellphone,” Spiegelberg mentioned. “I am within the technique of searching for a smartphone of 1 kind or one other, however I haven’t got that but.”
She mentioned she’s voted in “almost each election for greater than 70 years” and is decided to discover a solution to solid a poll, even when it means risking public publicity on Election Day. She’s trying into stitching face masks for herself and her husband.
“I nonetheless need to vote, and so does my husband,” Spiegelberg mentioned. “We’re accustomed to voting in each election and this is a crucial one.”
In Milwaukee, the Rev. Greg Lewis can also be involved a lot of his neighbors will not be capable to vote.
“It is already tough attempting to get individuals in my neighborhood to return out and vote as a result of we do not assume our vote actually counts,” mentioned Lewis, who’s president of Souls to the Polls, a gaggle that works to mobilize black voters in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee’s black neighborhood has been hit notably arduous by COVID-19. There have been a number of deaths. And Lewis himself has been identified with the virus.
He mentioned when the selection is between navigating the absentee poll course of or risking going to the polls in particular person, voting goes to be “virtually not possible” for a lot of in his neighborhood.
“And that’s so, so extremely heartbreaking,” Lewis mentioned.
Legislative leaders refuse election modifications
Wisconsin’s election date is written into state legislation and solely the Republican-controlled state legislature can postpone it.
For weeks, state Meeting Speaker Robin Vos and different Wisconsin GOP leaders have opposed making any modifications to the election. They argue it is too late to make it all-mail-in voting, as a result of there is not sufficient time to coach voters in regards to the change.
Additionally they level out Wisconsin’s spring election isn’t just a presidential major; it is also a basic election for a whole lot of native workplaces, like mayor, county government and county board. The winners of a lot of these races are scheduled to take workplace in April.
Vos says risking vacancies in native authorities positions is not attainable, particularly throughout a pandemic.
“We dwell in a republic, and we dwell in one which has to have elections,” he instructed reporters two weeks in the past.
Vos and state Senate Majority Chief Scott Fitzgerald rebuffed the governor’s name on Friday for a particular session of the legislature over the weekend to behave on proposals to shift the election to completely by mail, and to delay deadlines for clerks’ receipt and counting of ballots till Might.
Gov. Evers had been pushing for an all-mail election for some time, however Friday was the primary time he mentioned it needs to be delayed till Might.
The legislative leaders accused Evers of caving “underneath political pressures from nationwide liberal particular curiosity teams.”
Vos says he plans to work at a polling place in his district on Election Day.
“I am trying ahead to the delight that I’ll really feel figuring out that there have been hopefully one million Wisconsinites who did the suitable factor and solid their poll, whether or not by mail or in particular person, as a result of democracy has to proceed,” he mentioned.
A federal decide dominated final week that Wisconsin voters could have till April 13 to get their mail-in ballots to their native clerk, which suggests outcomes will not be identified till subsequent week. However that is the least of most individuals’s worries proper now.