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Long Lines Reported As Wisconsin Election Proceeds Despite Coronavirus Threat


Despite a pandemic that does have much of the country staying home, voters in Wisconsin went to the polls today. Lines stretched on and on in some parts of the state as thousands of voters cast ballots in the presidential primary, also state and local races - this even though the state's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had tried to postpone voting. But the Republican-controlled legislature sued, and Evers was overruled by the state Supreme Court. Among the voters waiting to vote today - Stewart Ouchie, a tattoo artist. He was at a high school in Milwaukee.

STEWART OUCHIE: I mean, it's fine. Everyone's keeping their distance and being super-civil. No one's, like, cutting or fighting or anything.

KELLY: Joining us with more from Wisconsin is Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

Hey there.


KELLY: Hi. So paint me a picture of what this has been like - people lining up to vote in the middle of a pandemic.

SILVER: So yeah. I went to Riverside High School, where voting was taking place in the gym. It was a pretty sunny day, wonderful weather for April in Wisconsin. But there were hundreds of people in line, with the line snaking out of the gym, down the street, bending around the corner and down another block. So there were people of all ages and demographics. I even talked to an 80-year-old man.

People were being pretty patient and generally standing six feet apart, but after voting, people would come back down the sidewalk and definitely got within six feet of others. It was crowded. People were saying they had up to a two-hour wait at many polling places in Milwaukee. Many people were wearing masks. Some weren't. And as you got closer to the building, there were poll workers with medical-grade masks.

Poll workers told me they had their temperature taken at the start of the workday, but voters weren't having their temperatures taken before coming into the gym. There was curbside voting in an adjacent parking lot. But what really struck me was the amount of people and movement. And I did see some people sanitizing doors and other areas.

KELLY: Now, when you were talking to voters - and I will add, I hope you were able to keep six feet away from everybody you were trying to interview. But what were they telling you about having to cast a ballot under these conditions?

SILVER: Yes, I was at a safe distance with my boom pole. But many voters were upset that they had to come out and vote today. They thought it was a mistake. So I talked to Tracey and Josh Sperko, a mother-son duo who are working the polls today. They had masks on but said that it was the one mask they were given for the whole day. They said they were some of the lucky ones that got gowns. Josh, who is 19, said he was working the polls because it is his civic duty to step up when others were advised not to work the polls by health officials. But he sounded this warning.

JOSH SPERKO: There's too many people. There's not enough protections in place to assure that the workers - like, we won't get sick. There's - a lot of the workers are very much in the at-risk demographic. So I think that there for sure are going to be a lot - that there are going to be people who are going to die because of this decision.

SILVER: Other people told me that they were voting in person because they didn't trust the mail-in ballots and because there was a lot not to trust about the political system these days. Other people told me that they had requested a mail-in ballot but didn't receive it in time to return it by 8 p.m. tonight, and that was a big problem.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, I was going to ask. I mean, you were obviously out there today talking to people who were trying to vote. I have to imagine these circumstances kept a lot of people from voting. Were you able to talk to any of them?

SILVER: Yes. Many people I heard from on social media from around the area said that. Omar Flores of Milwaukee said he requested an absentee ballot three days before the deadline, but there seemed to be some technical glitches with the website, so he never got his ballot.

OMAR FLORES: It's not worth taking the risk. I mean, it's, like, I think, like, a 3% death rate. I know I'm a younger person, but it could really impact anybody badly. And really, the - when it comes down to it, nobody should be risking their life in the slightest to be able to vote.

KELLY: Maayan, let me briefly ask you about results. When are we going to see them?

SILVER: Not for nearly a week - due to all the litigation around this election, the courts gave election officials more time to count ballots. So we're not going to get a sense of who won any of these races until April 13.

KELLY: April 13 - OK. That's Maayan Silver from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reporting on the voting in Wisconsin today.

Thanks, Maayan.

SILVER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.

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