The ill-advised Wisconsin Spring Primary roared to life this morning. Perhaps that's inaccurate, it's more like it stumbled over the starting line, knowing the finish is six days in the future. 

This is certainly going to be the most flawed and dangerous election ever held in Wisconsin. The process was marred by court rulings, inaction on the part of the state legislature, an executive order, litigation, state Supreme Court and US Supreme Court rulings, and a valiant effort on the part of the state elections commission staff to keep up with the election that would not jell. 

So here we stand, with an election that is both a threat to democracy and public health. We are in the depths of a pandemic, and we are being advised to stay at home and even to avoid shopping for groceries until the curve of infection starts to flatten more seriously. We are deep in it. There is no excuse for holding in-person voting today, particularly in areas like Milwaukee where there are only five polling places open today and lines already stretch around the block. It is impossible to imagine a scenario in Milwaukee where the voting will not cause more infection and possibly death. Delaying the election as called for by the Governor yesterday would have been inconvenient and irritating to some, but it would have staved off yet another possible round of infection in this pandemic. The Republican inability to see this is another example of our legislative leaders ignoring the desires and needs of their constituents in an attempt to aggregate more power. It is inexcusable. 

A more insidious feature of today's election, though, is that the election is flawed from the viewpoint of democracy. Fears of voting in public and exhortations from members of both parties in the state caused an unprecedented level of attempted absentee voting. This would have all been well and good except that there are many indications that the process failed under load. Election clerks (who are overworked and underpaid in the best of times) have been struggling to get absentee ballots out to voters, a process that ironically was made more difficult by Judge Conley's well-intentioned ruling extending the period of time to request and return absentee ballots. Since part of this was overturned in court, the period to request ballots was extended, but the period to return them was not. As a result many people who tried to obtain ballots did not get them in time to return them. The constant changing of rules in the last few days made it understandably difficult for voters to understand what they had to do.

Many voters (including myself) who may have never voted absentee before were caught up in the shifting dates, the problem of getting a witness to ballots while they were trying to self-quarantine, and the difficulty many had uploading proper ID while requesting ballots. All of this is part of the ongoing plan to make voting as difficult as possible in the state, and in this case, the rules really worked. Many who wanted to vote absentee were stymied, as shown by the graph above. A remarkable number of the ballots that have been sent out have not been returned. State-wide as of this morning, 1282762 ballots had been requested, 1273374 had been sent out, but only 864750 had been returned. Either a very large number of voters have waited until the last minute to return their ballots, or many voters just are not going to vote for some reason. We really will not know until April 13 how many of these 400,000 odd ballots have just disappeared into the ozone. Many will undoubtedly arrive too late to be counted.

Locally the numbers are Dunn County - 6946 ballots sent out, 4364 returned. Eau Claire County  - 22648 sent out, 16047 returned, Chippewa County - 11971 sent out, 81118 returned. Local officials have taken steps to make it easy to return the ballots today in their polling places, but it still seems likely that many people requested ballots and either did not receive them in a timely fashion, or they received them and have not returned them for some reason. Particularly disturbing is the confusion caused by the recent court orders. Many people still believed they had until April 13 to return their ballots, but may or may not have found out yesterday that the ballots need to be postmarked by today, April 7. For a period voters were not required to have their ballots witnessed if they confirmed that they did not feel they could safely have their ballot witnessed for health reasons. In a lot of cases people heard the good news, but then did not hear the changes. There will be many ballots uncounted for people who made a sincere effort to vote. This is no way to run an election.

On April 13 the vote totals will be released. At that time we will know who won the elections, but we will never be certain how many did not vote out of fear of illness, how many tried to vote by absentee ballot but were stopped by the ever-changing rules, and how many just gave up because the process was so convoluted. Those who go out to vote in person today are putting themselves and the poll workers at risk. This all could have been averted if Gov. Evers' executive order yesterday had not been thwarted by Republicans in the state, mostly over concerns of "voter fraud" that never seems to actually exist. The people of the state deserve better elections and they deserve better representation.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley


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