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WI Looks to Re-engage with Voters After Tension-filled Primary

State health officials say dozens of COVID-19 cases were linked to Wisconsin's in-person primary in April, but researchers say the effects might run deeper in the minds of voters. (Adobe Stock)
State health officials say dozens of COVID-19 cases were linked to Wisconsin's in-person primary in April, but researchers say the effects might run deeper in the minds of voters. (Adobe Stock)
May 29, 2020

MADISON, Wis. - The controversial decision to hold in-person voting for the April primary drew a lot of anger in Wisconsin. Now, the attention shifts to November, with an effort to restore confidence in the voting process.

A new study by economists at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Ball State says the move may have led to "large" increases in the state's number of COVID-19 cases. Voting rights groups feared that making people head to the polls during a pandemic might lead to trust issues.

And Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, says it's part of her group's job to remind people of different ways to participate.

"What we can offer is a comprehensive education campaign for voters," says Cronmiller, "so that they understand how and when to request absentee ballots, to what documentation is necessary."

She says early voting also can minimize health risks.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Elections Commission this week approved a plan to send absentee ballot applications to more than 2.7 million registered voters ahead of the fall election. Cronmiller says that's an added boost, since many people already used that option to avoid polling locations in the primary.

But even mailing out the applications has produced more tension between Democratic and Republican leaders over their wording - on the heels of several court battles that led to the state Supreme Court decision to hold the in-person primary.

Cronmiller says all this confusion doesn't help.

"There were many questions," says Cronmiller, "and I think what the league is hopeful we can do prior to any upcoming election is make sure that those messages are clean and clear, and those decisions are made long in advance of voters having to cast their ballot."

The state Elections Commission also has agreed to distribute postcards to more than 200,000 people who are eligible to vote, but not registered.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI