“I guess I have to”: Madison holds Spring Election amidst COVID-19 pandemic.

Poll workers at the consolidated Union South polling location donned protective gear and kept their distance as voters trickled in. Photo: Sam Buisman

Author: Sam Buisman

Madison voters and poll workers risked their lives to participate in the Spring Election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the Wisconsin State Supreme Court blocked Governor Tony Ever’s last-ditch effort to delay the election via executive order, many Madisionians were forced to decide between casting their ballots amidst a global pandemic or staying home and by extension safe. 

Students like sophomore Evan O’Keefe had to weigh their right to vote against jeopardizing their health. 

“Ideally, I wouldn’t be out in a very public space,” said O’Keefe, “but it’s my civic duty to vote, and if they’re gonna make me vote now, then I guess I have to.”

The City and election workers took strenuous measures to run the election safely despite massive shortages on supplies and poll workers. According to the City of Madison, most polling places in or near campus were relocated or consolidated after the Wisconsin Election Commission reported serious poll worker shortages in the campus area that left some polling places unstaffed. Inside the remaining polling places, poll workers were provided masks, distributed hand sanitizer, sat behind glass barriers, and meticulously wiped down surfaces after voters touched them to maximize cleanliness. 

Poll worker Jacob Swanson recognized the danger of volunteering but felt an obligation to handle it.

“I felt like somebody had to work the polls,” said Swanson. “Many of our volunteers that I see when I go to vote are a little bit older, so maybe they don’t want to step out in public and are at a higher risk than I am, so I felt more comfortable than I felt like other people might be.”

Regardless of these precautions, the coronavirus may have already done irreparable damage to voter turnout. Poll worker Amber Heffernan, who has volunteered at the polls for the last four years, said that she saw significantly less in-person voters today but is hoping that this dip will be offset as absentee ballots reach poll workers. 

However, the potentially record-breaking number of absentee ballot requests may have overwhelmed the state’s capacity to distribute them in time. According to the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, Wisconsin still had a backlog of around 10,000 unfulfilled absentee voter requests Tuesday morning.

To students like senior Mia Ogorchock, these collective shortcomings and difficulties have destroyed their confidence in today’s election.

“I think there’s a lot of voter disenfranchisement, particularly of college students,” said Ogorchock. “I know that a lot of my out-of-state friends will never get their absentee ballots, my mom couldn’t vote because she never got her absentee ballot, so I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of how people are voting at all.”

Yet, it is the anger that some voters, like senior Nathan Bledstein, feel over this situation that drove them to the polls. 

“The reason I came out to vote is as much a protest against the current Supreme Court as it is to get my vote heard,” said Bledstein. “It’s a, ‘OK, if you’re going to use your phones to call in and say we have to walk in person, fine, I’ll walk in and vote you out.’”

Polling places across the state will be open until 8 PM tonight. Unregistered voters can register at their polling place with a valid ID. The Red Cross recommends maintaining six feet of distance from others in public, washing your hands often, refraining from touching your face, and wearing a cloth facemask if you are over two years old.