Wisconsin voters went to the polls Tuesday despite public health warnings against large crowds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tuesday’s election comes after a slew of legal battles and partisan disagreements over whether the election should proceed as normal as the coronavirus spreads in Wisconsin.
On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers attempted to delay the election until June with an emergency order, but the Republican-controlled state Legislature immediately made an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which ruled 4-2 to strike the order down in a matter of hours.
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After a chaotic Monday, statewide polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday as voters expressed both concern and hope about the election.
Below are photos from across the state taken by WPR reporters, offering a glimpse into an election day overshadowed by a viral pandemic.
Prior to the election, the Wisconsin Elections Commission encouraged state residents to vote absentee to avoid large crowds at the polls. As of Tuesday, the elections commission was reporting 1,282,762 absentee ballots requested, 1,273,374 ballots sent out, and 864,750 absentee ballots returned.
Here, Superior has a drop box for absentee ballots outside the city’s government center polling location. The city — like the state — encouraged absentee ballots and curbside voting for Tuesday’s election due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite a large increase in early and absentee voting, polling places across the state opened Tuesday, many with significantly less poll workers thank usual.
Here Kathy Izzard, donning a mask and gloves, helps people vote at the Billings Park Community Center in Superior on Tuesday. She said her mask was red, white and blue for the occasion.
Voters at the Black River Beach Neighborhood Center in La Crosse were able to wash their hands both before and after voting at a mobile hand-washing station outside their polling place Tuesday. According to voters there, there were no lines inside and it only took a few minutes to vote.
An American flag is visible in the fog outside the Marathon City Town Hall in central Wisconsin. Voters began heading to the polls there at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
In Rib Mountain, Town Administrator Gaylene Rhoden expected as many as 2,666 in-person voters Tuesday. Rhoden was there Tuesday morning, prepared to greet voters at the village’s polling place.
Peter Quinn, 38, is a chief election inspector at a ward on Madison’s west side. Tuesday he worked the polls wearing a mask to protect both himself and others.
“It’s very difficult for me to do that job while maintaining the six foot distancing,” Quinn said. “So I had heavier equipment, and I brought it for myself.”
In Madison, polling places were limited to 66 polling places, versus the usual 92. Numbers in Milwaukee were much more stark, with only five of 180 polling places open.
Voters in Milwaukee experienced long waits to cast their ballots Tuesday — some reported up to two-hour delays. Here, a line of voters stretches around the block outside of Riverside High School, while a voter wears a jacket that says “Back up, don’t be all up on me.”
Hundreds of members of the Wisconsin National Guard were deployed to polling places across the state to help with a lack of poll workers for Tuesdays election. In Milwaukee, 170 guard members showed up to help staff the polls.
Here, Caroline Hildebrand, left, talks to a poll worker with the National Guard outside of Riverside High School in Milwaukee. Hildebrand has asthma and requested an absentee ballot, but she didn’t receive it in time and braved the polling place in spite of being high-risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19.
“Frankly, I’m disgusted that the courts and the leaders in charge still allowed this election to go on as planned,” Hildebrand said. “I think it’s a massive public health risk and believe thousands of people are going to be disenfranchised for arbitrary reasons.”
Town of Shelby resident Heather Bach recently moved to Wisconsin. Tuesday was her first time voting in the state and she had a difficult time finding where her polling place was after many locations closed due to COVID-19.
She said she was frustrated with the federal government’s response to the pandemic and Tuesday’s experience added local, county and state government to that list.
“This shouldn’t have come as a surprise,” Bach said. “Where was their disaster preparedness plan?”
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