Empower Wisconsin | July 1, 2020
MADISON — Looks like it wasn’t such a good idea to dramatically cut the number of polling places in Milwaukee during Wisconsin’s spring election.
Milwaukee’s abrupt decision to shut down 177 of its 182 polling sites reduced voting among non-black voters in the city by 8.5 percentage points, 10.2 percent for black voters, according to the study.
Fear about contracting COVID-19 cut turnout by 1.4 percentage points among non-black voters, while virus fear and other factors diminished black voter turnout by another 5.7 percentage points, according to the center’s research.
Keep in mind, the Brennan Center is a progressive law and policy institute which has for years railed against Voter ID laws and other election integrity protections.
Brennan Center uses its study to push for election administrators to “realize we need to make access to the ballot easier, not harder, this fall,” which would include the Democratic Party’s campaign for a mail-in election.
But the study clearly notes the negative impact the Milwaukee Elections Commission’s decision to reduce polling sites had on turnout. The commission and its administrator claim they did so because they couldn’t find enough poll workers, but that clearly was not the case. Wisconsin National Guard members were deployed to assist the election effort, and the liberal-led city leaned heavily on the failed prospect of Gov. Tony Evers’ order postponing the election. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rapidly overturned that order and it appears Milwaukee elections administrators were not fully prepared.
The Brennan Center report notes the polling cuts were “particularly drastic in Milwaukee.” The rest of the state saw an 11 percent drop in polling places amid the pandemic scare. Why? Because residents in Wisconsin’s largest city are less civically-minded than the rest of the cities in Wisconsin? Unlikely.
So why did Milwaukee have such a hard time getting help?
Empower Wisconsin has filed an open records request with the commission seeking all communications regarding its handling of the election.
Ultimately, as the study notes, a surge in absentee voting helped offset turnout declines. More than 960,000 voters cast absentee ballots in the April election, compared to 170,614 during the much-larger turnout 2016 presidential election.
A study by researchers and Stanford University and the University of Hong Kong noted “no detectable surge” in COVID-19 cases from the election. Another study found 71 people may have been infected at the polls, but they also may have gotten COVID-19 somewhere else.