Requests for absentee ballots flooded Wisconsin’s elections offices ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary, causing serious lapses and thousands of lost ballots.
At least 9,000 absentee ballots were never placed into the mailboxes of voters across Wisconsin, according to The New York Times. Officials found three tubs of requested ballots sitting in a post office building near Milwaukee. Ballots that voters filled out and sent back never arrived, and some that arrived were postmarked too late to be counted.
More than 860,000 countable ballots had arrived at Wisconsin’s election offices by Tuesday, a state record. The coronavirus pandemic fueled a massive spike in demand for absentee ballots that overwhelmed Wisconsin’s absentee voting system for thousands of residents. Those that requested ballots but did not receive them had to vote in person at their local polling place, if at all.
“This has all the makings of a Florida 2000 if we have a close race,” Wisconsin State Assembly minority leader Gordon Hintz (D) told The New York Times. Hintz was one of the thousands of residents who requested to vote by mail but never received a ballot.
Activists and campaign lawyers across the state are waiting as ballots continue to arrive from different parts of the state, but they are ready to act should any race come down to a thin margin.
Official results from the elections will not be released until April 13, the deadline to receive absentee ballots, according to The Washington Examiner.
Wisconsin’s contest was the first since state governors began issuing stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The chaos of Wisconsin’s attempt to hold an election during a pandemic and state-wide stay-at-home order is a warning to other states with elections coming up to expect a spike in absentee voting, and bolster their voting systems accordingly.
More than a dozen states have delayed their elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the state assembly refused a similar proposal, pointing to state law that would cause state offices to be left temporarily vacant from the original date of the election to when one could be held.
Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly blocked a proposal by the governor to conduct the election entirely by mail and another proposal that would have allowed ballots eligible if postmarked after April 7 but received by April 13.
Instead, Evers ordered Wisconsin national guardsmen to staff polling places and aid election workers while drastically cutting down on polling places. Milwaukee, which typically has 180 polling sites, set up just five, causing long lines of voters to assemble outside each one.
A week before the election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was urging city residents to stay home on election day because of the pandemic, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“I don’t think that it’s good public policy, I think it’s dangerous during a pandemic,” Barrett said. “And I hope that people do not go to the polls on Tuesday. As much as I want them to vote, I do not want them to put their lives in jeopardy, I don’t want them to put the health and safety of our poll workers in jeopardy.”