Milwaukee didn’t see a spike in coronavirus cases from its April election, likely because of a dramatic shift to mail voting and cleaning efforts at polling sites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded.
Milwaukee drew national criticism for closing all but five of its 180 precincts for the presidential primary and election for state Supreme Court and local offices. Health officials said the long lines the closures caused were a recipe for the spread of the pandemic.
But cases did not soar, the CDC noted in a recent report.
“No clear increase in cases, hospitalizations, or deaths was observed after the election, suggesting possible benefit of the mitigation strategies, which limited in-person voting and aimed to ensure safety of the polling sites open on election day,” the report stated.
As with people across the state, Milwaukeeans turned to mail voting in unprecedented numbers in April so they did not have to go to the polls. That helped prevent even longer lines.
Compared to the spring 2016 election, there was a 15-fold increase in mail voting in Milwaukee, according to the CDC. Early voting — much of it done in a drive-up system meant to limit contact with others — increased 160%.
Poll workers and elections officials tried to keep people physically distanced while they waited in line on election day and frequently cleaned voting machines and public areas. That also helped reduce the spread of the illness, according to the report.
The report comes just as clerks and voters ready themselves for the Aug. 11 primary to narrow the field in congressional and state legislative races. As they did in the spring, voters are largely relying on mail voting for the primary.
Clerks expect an unheard-of level of mail voting for the Nov. 3 presidential election, when turnout is at its highest. That is expected to limit the spread of coronavirus, but could strain the ability of election officials to process ballots.
In Milwaukee, election officials expect to have enough poll workers to operate its regular number of polling sites in August and November.
Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said the city is on track to have approximately 1,700 poll workers for 170 polling locations — a far cry from the challenges Milwaukee faced in April, when poll workers were continuously dropping out and the city took the number of polling locations down to five.
In November the hope is to have between 2,200 and 2,400 poll workers in Milwaukee, she said. The city also plans to open 15 early voting sites.
Alison Dirr of the Journal Sentinel contributed.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.