MADISON – A coalition of voting rights, civil rights, and other advocacy groups called for a series of changes to preserve voting rights and protect public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an open letter to the Wisconsin Election Commission sent today, the organizations called for, among other changes, all registered voters to receive a ballot in the mail automatically before each election as well as for every municipality to have a minimum number of polling locations within their community based on the size of the population.

“Wisconsin has multiple elections scheduled for 2020 and it is imperative that our elected representatives act now to put in place election processes that will ensure all voters can be safe while exercising their constitutionally guaranteed voting rights,” said the organizations in the letter.

“On election day, voters faced numerous hardships at polling locations. Many voters experienced long lines caused by a reduction in polling locations, and unsafe conditions at polling sites due to a lack of appropriate precautionary measures.

“Additionally, tens of thousands of voters who requested absentee ballots were forced to risk their health and safety – and the health and safety of everyone – to go vote or to follow the Governor’s ‘Safer at Home’ order because the ballots they requested never came.”

On Tuesday, April 7, Wisconsin was the first state to hold a statewide election during a global pandemic and under a stay-at-home order issued by its governor. Weeks before the election, a collective of voting rights organizations voiced their concern with holding an election during a pandemic. The consensus was that state lawmakers needed to implement several recommendations. However, decisionmakers refused to make accommodations or recognize the challenges and burdens being placed on individuals—particularly those such as people who have suffered from racial and economic injustices, as well as people with disabilities—because of COVID-19.

The organizations are asking the following:

Mail a ballot to all registered voters; automatically before each election. Ideally 30 days before the election date. Voters should not be required to have a witness or provide proof of an ID to request or return their ballot.

Allow voters to return ballots multiple ways: through the mail, the use of secure drop boxes, and by dropping it off at polling locations on the day of the election.

Every municipality should have a minimum number of polling locations within their community based on the size of the population, located in areas that can serve all populations in the municipality and allow voters to register and vote quickly and efficiently if they choose to vote in person on election day.

Every municipality should offer in-person access to early voting and voter registration in a way that proves to be safe and secure, as well as ballot drop boxes for several weeks before Election Day.

Voter registration should be as easy as possible through automatic voter registration in schools or at the DMV. Voters should also be able to register in person on Election Day and during early voting periods.

The Wisconsin Election Commission should fund public education efforts to ensure that all citizens are aware of how our voting process works and how they can participate.

For citizens for whom English is a second language they should have access to language assistance for voting. This should include access to ballots and elections materials in multiple languages, in addition to English and Spanish.

The organizations signing on to today’s statement are:

ACLU of Wisconsin
African American Roundtable
Black and Brown Womyn Power Coalition, Inc.
Black Lives Matter to Wisconsin Unitarian Universalists
Building Unity
CAP Services, Inc.
Chippewa Valley Votes
Cia Siab, Inc.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin
EXPO (Ex Incarcerated People Organizing)
Freedom, Inc.
Hmong American Women’s Association, Inc.
Layton Boulevard West Neighbors (LBWN)
League of United Latin American Citizens Council 346
League of Women Voters  of Wisconsin
Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, Inc
MICAH (Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope)
Midwest Environmental Advocates
Milwaukee County Human Rights Commission
MIRACLE Mental Health
Milwaukee Turners
National Lawyers Guild, Milwaukee Chapter
9to5, National Association of Working Women - WI
Oregon (WI) Area Progressives
Parents for Public Schools - MKE
Progressive Baptist Church
Represent Us Wisconsin
Rid Racism Milwaukee
Schools and Communities United
Souls to the Polls
Voces de la Frontera
Wisconsin Voices
WAVE Educational Fund
Wisconsin Conservation Voices
Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)
Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Wisconsin Network for Peace, Justice & Sustainability
YWCA Southeast Wisconsin