MILWAUKEE -- Thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in line to cast ballots and the National Guard staffed overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday, April 7 straining the state's ability to hold a presidential primary election in the grip of an escalating pandemic. At the same time, many voters said they did not receive their requested absentee ballots and, unwilling to violate a stay-at-home order to vote in person, accepted their votes would not be counted. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called it a dark day for our democracy, with Wisconsin the only state to have a traditional, in-person election in April.
Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said he was concerned about large gatherings at polling places at a time when people were ordered to avoid large gatherings, but he praised voters Tuesday.
"I think it speaks well to the dedication of the Milwaukee voters to overcome significant barriers, and those at high risk, to even risk their health to be able to participate in this very, very important election," said Albrecht.
With plenty of big races on the ballot, including Wisconsin Supreme Court, mayors, county executives and a constitutional amendment, lines were long at the five polling sites open in Milwaukee, compared to the traditional 180. Officials were forced to downsize after hundreds of poll workers stepped down because of health risks.
FOX6 News found voters waiting roughly 30 to 60 minutes on the city's north side Tuesday afternoon, while earlier, the wait was about an hour and a half.
"I'm not worried," said Jayla-Maielle Carter, age 19. "I'm just worried about who is going to be our president."
Traffic cones and health department workers kept people six feet apart, while others waited in the drive-thru lane.
"I think it's the silliest thing that ever happened," said Dwight Pierce. "They should have really postponed it. They are going to get people sick, and I just pulled up into the drive-thru."
For weeks, Governor Tony Ever said the election could still happen Tuesday. On Monday, the day before the election, Evers issued an order postponing the election for two months. Hours later, the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Republicans who said he didn't have the authority to reschedule the race on his own. Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court quickly followed with a ruling blocking Democratic efforts to extend absentee voting.
Laura Lewand voted for Bernie Sanders after waiting 45 minutes.
"This is much bigger than the coraonavirus, voting," said Lewand. "It's bigger than myself. It's about change. I need some change in my life."
Carter, 19, cast her first ballot Tuesday -- waiting her whole life to vote.
"Joe Biden -- he was with Barack Obama, and if felt like I should be voting for him," said Carter.
As for results, we're all going to have to wait. A federal judge ruled they cannot be released until April 13, the deadline for absentee ballots postmarked Tuesday to be received.
Voting in Milwaukee Tuesday
In-person voting centers will be available at the following locations:
- Aldermanic Districts 1*, 3 and 6: Riverside High School, 1615 E. Locust Street.
- Aldermanic Districts 2, 5 and 9: Marshall High School, 4141 N. 64th Street.
- Aldermanic Districts 4*, 12 and 14: South Division High School, 1515 W. Lapham Boulevard.
- Aldermanic Districts 7*, 10, and 15: Washington High School, 2525 N. Sherman Boulevard.
- Aldermanic Districts 8, 11, and 13: Hamilton High School, 6215 W. Warnimont Avenue.
- District 1, Ward 47 (normally at Hampton School) will be voting at Washington High School
- District 4, Ward 181 (normally at Charles Allis) will be voting at Riverside High School
- District 7, Ward 107 (normally at Ben Franklin School) will be voting at Riverside High School
- District 7, Ward 67 (normally at Barack Obama School) will be voting at Riverside High School
Voters are encouraged to confirm their ward number and voting center location at myvote.wi.gov by clicking the “Find My Polling Place” prompt at the top of the screen, or by visiting milwaukee.gov/election and clicking the “Where Do I Vote?” link.
Absentee voters are reminded to return their ballots either by mail or at any of the following City of Milwaukee absentee ballot drop box locations:
- Mill Road Library
- Washington Park Library
- Bay View Library
- Zablocki Library
- Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building