Report: Long Lines, Inconsistent Rules, Voter ID Posed Voting Challenged in Midterms

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    In attempt to highlight and enact change where needed, the Legal Coordinating Committee of Wisconsin Election Protection and the League of Women Voters released to the public on Friday their 2018 Midterm Election Report. With 278 volunteer observers in 497 polling sites across Wisconsin, the report makes recommendations to better coordinate, implement and engage voters throughout Wisconsin.

    Overall, with 2.67 million Wisconsin citizens (about 59 percent of the voting age population) voting, the report concludes that locations were “welcome, safe, and well-served” for voters. Issues that showed up, however, throughout locations including inconsistent understanding of rules for both voter ID and voter registration, inadequate space for voting locations, inaccessible polling sites, confusion with signage and long lines.

    Specific issues observed in the Fox Valley included:

    – At sites throughout the state, including those observed in Sheboygan and Fox Point, lines were 100 people or more or wait times were such that voters left.

    – At a site in Appleton, the lack of poll workers caused the Chief Inspector to leave to find additional, though untrained, workers after some of the poll workers originally scheduled for that site were moved to another.

    – Voters having to wait due inadequate staffing including a site observed in Menominee County where only one person was processing all registrations causing a long line at that site

    – Inability to get translators as observed at one polling site in Oshkosh where there was no Spanish translator available so a voter only casted their ballot for candidates and not on any referendums.

    – Lack of space available as observed in locations including Winnebago County (where poll workers tried to redirect lines and traffic to keep voters from standing in the rain/cold at a site that was too small for the number of voters and overwhelmed staff including the Chief Inspector) or in Outagamie County (where at one site, lines being out the door caused voters to enter through alternate entrances and causing confusion about where line began)

    – Lacking signage or confusing signage (in about more than 11 % of observed polling locations) that caused frustration and unnecessary signage including one site observed in Sheboygan with signage too low for voters in the back to see and caused a back up.

    -Confusion about where to vote as locations had changed and moved frustrated voters and caused few to decide not to vote as observed in Winnebago County where polling places were moved out of schools but voters still showed up to those site or as observed at a site in Sheboygan where one voter was incorrectly re-directed a couple of times and was too frustrated to vote.

    Positive Observations in Fox Valley:

    – At a four-ward polling site in Appleton, staff used greeters to speed up the process in determining what ward they were in and directing them to the correct lines.

    – At a polling location in Oshkosh, the site had volunteers that staff a pre-registration area that allowed student fill out registration forms, checked that they had proper ID and proof of residence before moving into necessary lines.

    – At a polling site in Sheboygan, signage that explained what was on the ballot and how to complete the ballot inside the polling site was observed

    – At sites in Winnebago County, it was observed that poll workers offered lower voting booths to voters at wheelchair height or at another, reading a ballot to a visually impaired voter.

    Though, overall, voters in the Fox Valley were engaged and had positive experiences, there were specific issues observed that impacted the most underserved.

    – Tribal communities were impacted most by issues of proof of residency – often these sites were twice as likely to have voters be turned away at registration than sites that did not serve Tribal communities due to lack of proof of residence. These issues stem from shared housing were a voter did not have their name on a lease or utility bill  to show proof of residence or where mail is received at a PO Box (P.O. Box addresses can not be used as a residence when registering to vote).

    – In about twelve sites observed in Oshkosh, accessible voting equipment was not seen by observers or if they were available and requested, poll workers told them that were not an accessible voting machine.

    – In Menominee County, one site observed had several voters with disabilities having trouble entering and waiting in line at the specific polling site.

    – One homeless voter who was unable to show proof of residence due to moving day to day from shelter to shelter not being able to use a letter from a shelter as proof of residence since the address of the shelter was not listed.

    – Issues with poll workers not following rules about electronic copies for proof of residence including on voters’ cell phones in Appleton and Oshkosh, as well as one site in Winnebago County with registrars who would not look at online accounts for proof of residence for voters as they were overhead saying to each other “that they did not trust online activities and told voters to go home to get ‘proper’ proof of residency.”

    Misinformation about both voter ID as well as when to provide provisional ballots to voters also greatly impacted voters and poll workers.  Issues with what was an acceptable form of ID (i.e. a poll worker in one Sheboygan County site not knowing that the address on the ID can be different if the voter was in the poll books)and applying the voter ID law appropriately plagued the state. One site in Kenosha was observed in making some voters “feel uncomfortable,” as they wrongly compared the addresses of voter IDs with their registration address and continuing to do so with other voters despite being corrected by the Chief Inspector that the addresses did not need to match. The rate of which provisional ballots were offered and the number of sites asking voters about their addresses on their photo ID did not improve in this last election as compared to November 2016.

    The report did make further recommendations which included:

    – Expand online voter registration and educate voters state wide about online registration – including providing better instructions and materials to be shared to voters.

    – Continue with same day registration

    – Bring back corroboration for voters who lack proof of residence. This allows voters to use another voter to corroborate their residence (requiring the poll worker to obtain identifying information from the corroborator as an additional safeguard)

    – Expand forms of ID (including ID issued by the federal govt. state of WI or WI county or local govt), out of state driver’s lcense, regular collge and university ID cards from all WI colleges and tech schools, etc.

    – Assist with ID Issuance

    – Provide better and easy direction and language about the ID requirement and how to obtain ID

    – Better outreach and education throughout the state about where to vote, how/where to register, etc.  

    – Better training and education for both chiefs and poll workers

    – Keep in-person absentee voting as well as enhance staffing

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