Spring election still scheduled to go on despite growing concerns from clerks, municipalities

With one week to go until the spring primary, some members of the state election commission aren’t sure every vote will be counted.

They discussed it in a special meeting held on teleconference Tuesday.

“There’s an avalanche coming at the clerks,” said Commissioner Mark Thomsen, a Democrat from Milwaukee.

Commissioners said with a severe shortage of poll workers and a record number of absentee ballot requests, clerks are struggling to meet deadlines and make elections run smoothly.

“We’re going to have absentee ballots that are arriving late,” said one member. “We are going to have absentee ballots that aren’t getting to voters by no fault of any voter but by virtue of the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Though the commission doesn’t have the authority to move the election, members discussed a measure that would ask the courts to move the election to May 12 if ongoing litigation causes the courts to postpone the election.

“We cannot guarantee that the May 12th date is going to be any better in terms of the spread of the virus or whatever,” one member said. “As a matter of fact it could be much worse.”

Ultimately the body failed to approve that measure. However it did release guidance to election clerks on counting absentee ballots, saying clerks can continue processing those votes the day after the election if they don’t finish on Election Day.

Clerks are worried about even getting the ballots out and back on time.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the city clerk is working 90 to 110 hour weeks trying to stay on top of absentee ballot requests, and there is still a backlog more than 10,000 requests deep.

“We’ve put forward an absolutely herculean effort in the clerk’s office to process all those requests and get all those ballots to people, but quite frankly we’re running out of time,” Rhodes-Conway said.

She said she worries about voters being disenfranchised if the election is not moved.

That led the city to file a brief in federal court Monday, asking for a postponement of the election of at least three weeks. A judge will meet over the ongoing election litigation on Wednesday.

Besides court action, the state legislature is the only other government body with the power to postpone the election.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement to News 3 Now that Republicans and Democrats agree the election should happen April 7.

“I’m confident that voters and election officials will rise to the challenges that this election may bring,” he said. “During this pandemic, we need more democracy, not less.”