MILWAUKEE – Wisconsin is now a national hotspot for the coronavirus, with more cases identified so far in Milwaukee County than anywhere else in the state. But that didn’t stop crowds of voters here from heading to the polls on Tuesday, the first day of in-person advance voting in a highly controversial state of transition with a recent history of pandemic fear at the polls and violence in the polls. ‘far right. .
Two-hour queues were reported at some of Milwaukee’s early voting sites, and Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the city’s Election Commission, said lines were forming at the 13 sites opened on Tuesday . A 14th site will open on Wednesday, and two more are available by appointment only to voters with disabilities who cannot use any of the others.
After a primary in April that saw the city operate just five overcrowded “polling centers” due to a lack of poll workers, things were looking much better. City locations enforced social distancing while providing single-use pencils for registration, plexiglass shielded stations, and digital screens for voting.
The city and suburb also provide ballot boxes to cast the ballots for those who do not want to vote by mail or in person.
“I’m not too scared of COVID, honestly, and I wear a mask,” First Voter Gilberto Gonzales, 18, told the Daily Beast at the historic Mitchell Street Library on the south side of Milwaukee. He said he didn’t know how to vote by mail but probably would have chosen to do so if he had had any help.
“The spread is a real concern, but I’m not too worried about it,” said Marcelo Martinez, 30, himself a COVID-19 survivor. “A lady came here to make sure we were six feet apart.
On the possibility of right-wing intimidation and violence at polling stations after a summer of unrest across the country, vigilantism in nearby Kenosha and the president fueling intimidation of his supporters at the polls , voters here generally felt safe.
“Milwaukee is a blue city so I’m not afraid of violence at the ballot box here, but probably in small towns in Wisconsin it can happen,” Martinez said.
A voter who refused to give her name to the nearby Bay View library voted alongside her husband and daughter, a first voter. She said they initially planned to come on Election Day, but changed their plans due to interference with the U.S. Postal Service by the Trump administration.
“Voting by mail is just a little uncertain right now, and I feel better knowing that my vote is going to be counted. I fear deep down that my ballot could be lost if I vote by mail, ”she said.
The lines extended for about a half-block to both the Villard Square Library, on the predominantly black north side of largely blue Milwaukee, and into the Republican and heavily white suburb of Mequon.
Mark Chorbak said he often votes early and the line at Mequon Town Hall was “the biggest crowd I’ve seen here.”
Although all voters surveyed wore masks and practiced social distancing, few expressed serious concerns about voting safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s safer today,” because social distancing is easier in a small crowd, said Emmett Edwards of Milwaukee.
Bruce Spann, online at Mequon City Hall, said he wanted to vote early “in case I fall with COVID” before election day.
None of the voters said they let the prospect of voter suppression on or before November 3 scare them off.
“They’re not going to stop me,” said Precious Thomas of Milwaukee. She added that she was determined to vote “to get Donald Trump removed from office, because if you don’t, it will be mass war, destruction.”
Spann said he expected no election day interference in the vote in deeply red Ozaukee County in Mequon, but believed it could be a concern in Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine.
In Milwaukee, James Britt and Jessie Jones said they also wanted to vote in person because they wondered whether mail-in votes would be delivered or disqualified.
“It’s really not together yet,” Britt said of the postal voting system.
On Tuesday afternoon, a line of about 40 people meandered past the Washington Park Library, most of them in a caravan to the polls by a group called Metcalfe Park Community Bridges. While the organization does a lot of civic engagement work in the neighborhood, this was their first massive event to get people to the polls.
“In our community, they’re not really comfortable with mailing ballots, so we want to provide an alternative,” said CEO Danell Cross.
She added that she was somewhat afraid for her own health, but this election was too important to stand aside.
“I’m older and have a lot of underlying problems: high blood pressure, enlarged heart, overweight. So of course I’m worried about COVID, but I’m even more worried about our democracy.
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