Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a tweet early Saturday that the City of Milwaukee appears to want “problems instead of an actual solution” ahead of the Tuesday spring election.
Vos’ tweet came as the clock began ticking on Gov. Tony Evers’ call for a special legislative session for 4 p.m. Saturday to extend the election date to May 19 and convert the contest entirely to a mail-in election.
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It also ignited a furious response from the city’s top election official, Neil Albrecht, who said public health “will be compromised by the legislature’s reckless intent to move forward with this election.”
Later, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett charged: “Speaker Vos wants to blame Milwaukee because he and his colleagues haven’t acted.”
With the state dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Milwaukee election officials announced Friday there would be just five polling locations for Tuesday’s election — the city typically operates 180 or more sites.
That leaves the possibility of thousands of people deciding not to wait in line to vote, getting infected, or both.
Additionally, clerks across the state have reported a severe shortage of poll workers, with more than 100 communities saying they will have no one to work the polls. In those municipalities, voters will have to drive to another town to cast a ballot in person, according to the state Elections Commission.
In his tweet, Vos said: “Milwaukee could easily use city staff to open polling places like many other municipalities are doing in addition to their poll workers. Gov Evers has also offered the National Guard. It appears they want problems instead of an actual solution. “
Barrett, who had been at home under self-quarantine for 14 days, and his wife Kris, returned their absentee ballots Saturday at Washington Park Library. Several voters wore protective face masks as they also voted.
Barrett noted that the city has 828 reported cases of COVID-19 out of the more than 1,000 cases in Milwaukee County.
“He wants to blame Milwaukee for a worldwide pandemic,” Barrett said of Vos. “I don’t think anybody, anybody is buying that for a second. If he knew how much work our Election Commission, how much work our Health Department, how much work others who are working for this city, this county, have done to try to control the spread of this pandemic and then to suggest we are trying to do something to create a problem?
“Mr. Speaker, it’s a worldwide pandemic, the problem is here. We’re not creating anything. We are responding to a worldwide pandemic.”
Barrett said the city of Milwaukee has 828 cases of the more than 1,000 reported in Milwaukee County.
“And Speaker Vos wants to blame Milwaukee. He wants to blame Milwaukee for a worldwide pandemic. cases of COVID-19 s
Albrecht, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission executive director, responded to Vos’ comment in a lengthy text to the Journal Sentinel.Albrecht said that Vos “is obviously unaware of the city’s recruitment efforts or the number of city employees that will actually be supporting the election, including our central account processing of over 85,000 absentee ballots.”
“I would also question his awareness of the very real fear election workers are experiencing with regard to the spiking cases of COVID-19 in the city of Milwaukee.
“I think his commentary is very disrespectful and dismissive of the many people that have come forward to support this election and those that have had to make the difficult decision to decline out of concerns for their health.”
Albrecht said he “would welcome” Vos’ presence at Milwaukee’s voting centers and “would encourage him to consider the sites that are located in the hot spots in this city.”
“Finally, I would add that every staff member of the election commission and the many city employees that are supporting our efforts have been working 14-hour days, seven days a week.
“The Assembly has not even come into session to address the implications of this pandemic on the election, the disparities that it will create in terms of access to voting and the public health that will be compromised by the legislature’s reckless intent to move forward with this election,” Albrecht said.
Later, in a teleconference, Albrecht warned there could be lines on Tuesday, election day, at the five voting sites.
He said officials “will be allowing no more than 50 people into the voting room at one time.” Those 50 include poll workers, he said.
Fifty people at a time will also be placed into holding areas.
“Of course these are very large spaces in terms of square footage and we will enforce social distancing mandates in regard to those areas,” he said.
“We really encourage the public to prepare both time wise to consider personal protection in terms of going into what will be a gathering space and taking other precautions like bringing your own supplies, your own black point pen,” he said.
He said drive-up early voting will continue Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N Broadway.
In addition, through April 13, City of Milwaukee residents can drop off absentee ballots from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Zeidler Building and Zablocki Library, Bay View Library, Washington Park Library and Mill Road Library.
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