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‘2 different cities:’ Milwaukee had 5 polling sites during COVID-19 election; Madison had 60+

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MILWAUKEE -- The head of elections in Milwaukee is seeking a U.S. Postal Service Investigation into what happened to missing absentee ballots that did not make it to voters before the election Tuesday, April 7 -- as Wisconsin’s forging ahead with that election in the middle of a pandemic has public health officials, and those who showed up at the polls, worried.

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht said Wednesday that he wants the investigation to focus on ballots that were issued and mailed around March 22 and March 23.

Many voters who showed up Tuesday said they were forced to come out after absentee ballots they requested never arrived. The state Elections Commission was also working with the Postal Service on reports of undelivered ballots in Oshkosh and Appleton and elsewhere.

The U.S. Postal Service didn’t immediately respond to a call Wednesday seeking comment.

COVID-19 election

Rev. Greg Lewis

Rev. Greg Lewis

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Milwaukee is on track to beat voting totals from 2012. This year, 18,803 people cast ballots in person, while the city saw a surge in absentee ballot requests, issuing 96,712. Absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday, April 7 can arrive through April 13.

An election-eve decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturning Governor Tony Evers' order to postpone the vote made the state an outlier in pushing ahead with voting, ignoring pleadings from health experts and local officials about the danger of spreading the virus. Lines of mask-wearing voters stretched for hours in Milwaukee, where five polling sites were open, compared to the usual 180.

The election amid the pandemic could mean more court battles.

"It's a killer virus," said Rev. Greg Lewis with Souls to the Polls. "It really is, Jason."

Rev. Lewis said COVID-19 nearly killed him, and said he's heartbroken over what happened at the polls.

"To risk your life for something that should be a right for us. I was just really, really, just so upset," said Rev. Lewis.

Debra Cronmiller

Debra Cronmiller

He sued to try to stop the election, and on Wednesday, he and other groups were weighing whether to sue again.

"We'll begin talking about what recourse there is for those voters who didn't feel safe to turn out, who didn't have the means to request a ballot online," said Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. "They don't have a smartphone, no computer at home. All the libraries were closed. All the community centers were closed."

Senator Alberta Darling

Senator Alberta Darling

Republican Senator Alberta Darling said she blames the city, with only five polling locations open.

"If you look around the area, the four-county area, things went very smoothly, but Milwaukee did not," said Senator Darling. "There were huge waiting lines."

There were also long lines in Green Bay, where the usual 31 polling sites were consolidated to just two. Some waited for four hours -- some not casting ballots until past midnight.

Neil Albrecht

Neil Albrecht

In Madison, there were more than 60 polling sites open for voters.

"Two very different cities, and I think it's rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic, and Milwaukee being in the epicenter of that pandemic," said Albrecht.

Still, tonight many questions linger about possible investigations and lawsuits.

"The fight is just beginning," said Rev. Lewis. "This fight is just beginning."

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