What you need to know going in to Tuesday’s elections
1. The election is happening.
Polling places open at 7:00 A.M. and will remain open until 8:00 P.M. on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
Following a week in which the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin doubled, WI Governor Tony Evers first attempted to bring the state legislature into an emergency session covering COVID-19 and the looming April 7 election. The special session was concluded by Republican lawmakers with no action taken or debate held.
In total, the Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate dedicated fewer than 19 seconds to the issue before ending session and all discussion in both chambers. No elected Republican state senators attended, leaving their procedural duties to a clerk.
This same senate body that refused to act has recently all but eliminated in-person group interactions as they test out remote, digital sessions. The Wisconsin Capital is closed to the public.
The governor, having failed at bringing the parties together for a diplomatic solution, issued an executive order to postpone the election date that also pushed for voting via mail.
Republican leadership promptly appealed to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, a body that has become a national spectacle of judicial partisanship. The court, despite having suspended in-person court proceedings across the state due to COVID-19 health risks – a move seen by some as unlawful and counter to language of the state constitution – declared Ever’s order to be unlawful and unsupported by the state’s constitution.
The 4-2 supreme court vote to reinstitute the election followed unofficial party lines (justices hold non-partisan positions). Incumbent Justice Kelly, who is up for re-election with the April 7 vote, recused himself following pressure from the media to do so, but not without inserting his own social media commentary: “We can do two things at the same time: maintain the foundations of our democracy while taking reasonable precautions to keep people safe.”
Kelly did not provide detail of how he believed poll workers and assemblies of voters would be kept safe, nor did any court representative or member of the appealing party provide direction, guidance or commentary on how this will be safe. There was no indication that health professionals or local election professionals were consulted for any element of this public health decision on elections.
The State Supreme Court seat and Kelly are the key reasons why Republicans are focused on running an immediate election amidst an unprecedented health crises and counter to guidance provided by the medical community: Republican state-wide candidates fair significantly better with low voter turnout, and a pandemic that has caused significantly more harm in larger urban areas, which routinely vote Democrat, will work to Kelly’s favor as these urban areas see a significant decline in voter turnout.
In an election year that has a contested Democratic presidential primary and a Republican incumbent whose antics would typically motivate the opposition, keeping hold of a state-wide Wisconsin Supreme Court seat could be a steal for Republican leadership – a steal both of the seat itself, and potentially of the good health and life of our state’s election workers and voters.
2. If you are one of the 400,000 Wisconsinites who requested an absentee ballot but have not yet received it, YOU NEED TO VOTE IN PERSON APRIL 7.
Many of us followed the rules and guidelines in requesting an absentee ballot that never actually came.
There has been a lot of ideas thrown around on this matter, and much of the confusion has to do with a lower court judge offering additional time to submit your ballot after the election. This ruling has been overturned.
If you want your vote to count, the Oshkosh City Clerk’s office has affirmed that your ballot needs to be “postmarked by April 7 and received by 4:00 pm on April 13th or hand delivered to the polls by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, April 7. Ballots postmarked after April 7 or hand delivered after 8:00 p.m. on April 7 cannot be counted”.
You should NOT expect to receive a ballot by email.
You can not call in your vote.
You can not wait and fill out your absentee ballot later when it arrives.
Go to your poll site, let them know you requested an absentee and it never arrived, and fill out an in person ballot. They will record that you have requested your absentee ballot be cancelled.
3. The Election Matters
You are electing local Oshkosh Common Council Representation and Oshkosh Area School Board members. In addition, you are electing Winnebago County Board of Supervisors.
There is also the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between the aforementioned Justice Kelly and challenger Jill K. Karofsky, along with a race for Court of Appeals Judge, District 2 between Lisa Neubauer and Paul Bugenhagen Jr.
Voters will also find a confusingly worded constitutional referendum question talking about victim’s rights. Similar propositions have appeared throughout the country, with strong support from voters and lawmakers paired with strong concerns from state courts and legal experts.
Democracy often takes effort, and a change to the state’s constitution warrants 30 minutes of your live. If you are going to vote on this referendum question, first read the LRB’s background report as well as this legal expert’s testimony. Find another resource or two and be informed. If you don’t understand this question and haven’t researched it’s meaning, don’t answer it.
Oh, and possibly lost in all of this: there is a primary for the US President on the Democratic side.
4. Be Safe, Supportive and Patient.
You can vote in person and can take steps to improve your safety and that of your fellow election poll workers. Wear a mask as recommended by the CDC. Bring hand sanitizer and don’t touch your face, both actions likewise recommended by the CDC. Keep your distance as much as possible, and when all is done, wash your hands (also CDC recommendations).
Poll workers often receive only minimal training and are faced with having to implement new election rules stemming from the latest efforts to curtail voting in the state. Be patient and respectful at all times – if at any point you believe something wrong has occurred simply ask for the chair of the site and talk through your concern. Reports have suggested a severe shortage of poll workers due to the reality of the health risks this election is posing, so be patient and understanding if you experience slow processing, uncertainty, and even hurdles.
According to the Oshkosh City Clerk: “If the voter is uncomfortable entering the polling site, they may do a ‘curbside’ vote. Curbside voting is where the election workers (2) will take the election documents out to the vehicle and wait until the voter has completed their ballot, the ballot will be placed in a secrecy sleeve, and taken back into the polling site and put through the voting machine.”
5. Question where your elected leadership is.
One of the hazards of safely constructed representative districts is that you can be elected to a leadership position without ever really having to lead.
For the vast majority of Winnebago-area residents, we are currently experiencing a crisis in most aspects of our lives. We have received clear guidance from qualified medical professionals to avoid unnecessary social interactions and non-essential trips out, yet state legislative and judicial leadership is recommending the complete opposite.
Where do our state representatives stand on this matter and how are they responding to this crisis?
Despite the seriousness of the situation and major disconnect in messaging from leadership, Winnebago area residents have elected leaders whose primary public messaging has been a social media post having eaten at The Roxy or sharing web links.
For any elected official to be absent from the public sphere at a time like this is beyond disgraceful.
We need to demand more from our elected officials. They need to be more than just a social media outpost sharing information already distributed to the public. They need to take a stand on an issue and share how they are working to improve things, even if that means not supporting their party leadership.
If your elected officials are currently absent and unable to provide any indication of independence and leadership, it is time to ask yourself what can we change and who can we support that can fulfill the responsibilities and duties of being an elected official.