Wisconsin needs to keep election on April 7
The stakes are high for the 2020 spring elections scheduled for April 7.
Local ballots include a proposed constitutional amendment, the state’s presidential primary, a referendum for Chippewa Valley Technical College, a 10-year term for the state supreme court, county board seats, school boards and several municipal races including the race for mayor of Medford.
The challenge facing voters and the communities is to balance the public safety concerns of limiting gatherings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic with the fundamental right for citizens to cast a ballot and choose their representatives.
For weeks, the message has been to use the absentee ballot process and either mail or deliver the ballots to municipal clerks. In addition, there is the opportunity to fill out out the ballots ahead of time at municipal halls.
Some groups are calling for a delay in the election, especially in light of the “Safer at Home” order issued by Gov. Tony Evers this week. The order restricts nonessential activities outside of people’s homes in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Voting is an essential activity in a democracy.
That said, there need to be common sense changes made to ensure the process is safe for everyone. First among these would be for the mass mailing of absentee ballots to all registered voters who have not yet received one. This would allow the voters to either mail the ballots back or deliver them in person on election day through curbside voting, where they could be placed in secured boxes without the voters ever having to leave their vehicles or come in physical contact with poll workers.
In addition, Evers and the state election commission should agree to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities’ request and allow clerks to begin counting absentee ballots before election day and that they accept absentee ballots that arrive in the days after the election as long as they are postmarked by election day.
Alternatively, communities could be directed to establish multiple polling stations where registered voters could drop off their ballots to ensure there would not be large groups of people in any one place.
These changes would dramatically limit the number of voters who would actually have to enter the polling location or come into direct physical contact with poll workers.
The risk of changing the election date is that even the experts have no idea how long the COVID-19 crisis will last. Postponing an election sets a dangerous precedent in a presidential election year of discarding what it means to be an American for the sake of convenience.
There are methods that can be undertaken to balance the risk to voters and poll workers while ensuring the fundamental exercise of democracy continues unchecked.
Wisconsin must move quickly to ensure elections take place on April 7.