A voter gets assistance registering to vote from Anne Richie at the Central Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library. The library is providing voter resources for residents, including voter registration. (Photo: Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Amelie Osterud, branch manager at the Milwaukee Public Library’s Good Hope location, likes to volunteer as a poll worker during elections because it’s a time to catch up with her neighbors.
As a poll worker during the April 7 elections at Riverside University High School, Osterud saw firsthand how having a resource for things like ballot witnessing, drop-offs and address changes was a way the Milwaukee Public Library could make itself a vital resource during a highly unusual election cycle.
Osterud described the April elections as “whoa.”
She and other library colleagues want voters to have a better experience. “We know how we can do this one safely,” she said.
The primary election was a jarring illustration of the need for more resources of all kinds, from more voting locations to more poll workers, said Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission.
ELECTION GUIDE: How to vote and what to know about the ballot
“One good thing that came out of the last election is people in the community got a very good look at what a poll worker shortage looks like,” she said.
Anne Richie became a poll worker after the April election. “When I went in during the last election, I knew there was a need for people.”
This year, she is working alongside Terry Perry at the Central Library location, helping people register, request absentee ballots, get a witness for their ballots and get their documents in order if they want to vote in person.
Perry, Richie, Woodall-Vogg and MPL communications specialist Eileen Cahill-Force all said the libraries are ready for the election, despite the coronavirus pandemic and misinformation swirling about absentee ballots.
Absentee ballots are a legal and authorized form of voting. “Every ballot has equal weight, whether you do it on that day or absentee,” Richie said.
The libraries have taken steps to ensure the election can be carried out safely, in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During all in-person voting (both on and before Election Day), counters and devices will be wiped down by sanitation crews after every person votes. There will be capacity limits at library branches to allow for social distancing and markers so people standing in line know how far apart to stand. Libraries will be closed to patrons.
Rita Cox, an election commission worker at the Good Hope location, said that one of the most common questions is how often the mail service picks up ballots from the exterior ballot collection box. The answer: every day, Cox said. On Election Day, ballots will be collected every hour.
Once they get their ballot, Cox said voters can follow it online through MyVote.WI.gov.
If you go to vote in-person on Nov. 3, you need a photo ID to vote and documents to show proof of residency if you live at a place different than the address listed on your photo ID. Voter assistants can help you determine the right documents, update your voter registration if you recently moved and witness your ballot for you if you live alone.
Many voters are anxious, Perry said.
“People are concerned about accessing their ballot. Everywhere nationally, people are concerned about the mail. I think the keyword is ‘prepare,’ ” she said, for everyone from poll workers to voters.
“It’s our job to facilitate voting, not obstruct it,” she said.
How the libraries are helping
The Central Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library is among many sites around Milwaukee where official ballot drop boxes are located. In addition, the library is providing voter resources for residents including voter registration services. (Photo: Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Early voting locations: The Bay View, Good Hope, East, Mitchell Street, Villard Square, Washington Park and Zablocki libraries will offer early voting from Oct. 20 to Nov. 1. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Election day in-person voting locations: Nine libraries will be available for in-person voting: Atkinson, Bay View, Centennial Hall, Center Street, East, Tippercanoe, Villard Square, Washington Park and Zablocki. Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
Voter assistance: Voter assistance is being offered by election commission specialists at all 12 library branches as well as the central library. Assistance includes witnessing ballots, checking registration status, updating registrations with new addresses, assisting voters trying to request absentee ballots and figuring out which documents are required for people who want to vote in person on Nov. 3. Assistants will be at library branches 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through Oct. 14.
Exterior ballot collection boxes: There are exterior ballot boxes at every library.
What happens to my ballot?
Here’s what happens to your ballot after it slips into one of the ballot boxes in front of a library.
Wisconsin has a rule preventing absentee ballots from being counted before Nov. 3 but in the lead up to the election, ballots are sorted alphabetically into 327 wards.
Then on Election Day ballots are:
- Reviewed to make sure they have a proper address and are properly witnessed
- Given a voter number
- Run through high-speed tabulators
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