Claire Woodall-Vogg

Executive Director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, Claire Woodall-Vogg, discussed the upcoming general election, from safety to early voting changes, during the Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Lunch Hour, in partnership with WisPolitics, on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Coming off the recent news that Miller Park and Fiserv Forum would no longer be readily available options for early voting, Woodall-Vogg explained it was a tough decision. She noted it was never the commission’s intention to effect voting in any negative way.

“The last [thing] I would ever want is for City of Milwaukee voters to use either of those sites and then later have their ballots thrown out due to our mistake,” Woodall-Vogg said.

The potential impact this will have will not be known until early voting is underway, Woodall-Vogg explained.

Safety on multiple fronts was also called into concern for the November general election.

One of the major, and most obvious, concerns for this year is the handling of various factors brought on by the pandemic, which impact voters.

With the uptick in the number of absentee ballots being cast, Woodall-Vogg stressed the importance of submitting ballots early and recommended using ballot drop-boxes.

Ballot drop-boxes are under 24-hour video surveillance, explained Woodall-Vogg, and have adhered seals to identify if anyone has tampered with its contents. The ballots are also collected by a pair of workers and follow a chain of custody.

“Our drop-boxes are more secure than your average postal service blue mailbox,” Woodall-Vogg said.

The boxes also reassure voters that the election officials received the ballot, Woodall-Vogg said, making them a reliable option.

Communication with the United States Postal Service has been very open, she added, and they are working to process all ballots.

For those voting inperson, COVID-19 safety precautions are being implemented.

The health department has been “really integral” in creating Election Day plans, Woodall-Vogg said. The department is working to take all health precautions.

All poll workers will be wearing masks and have been offered face shields. Plexiglass will be installed, and some workers may choose to wear gloves as another layer of protection, according to Woodall-Vogg. In-person voters are also asked to wear masks, citing the state mandate.

“If you feel comfortable going to your grocery store, you should feel comfortable going to your polling place,” Woodall-Vogg said.

In-person polling place safety has also been called into question after President Donald Trump’s recent statement encouraging people to observe the polls.

The Milwaukee Election Commission is working closely with law enforcement, as it does for every election, but Woodall-Vogg admited that this year has been slightly different.

“It’s unique in that most years, our biggest threat are cyber security attacks,” said Woodall-Vogg. “This year we are facing more concerns around actual polling place safety concerns.”

They currently aren’t aware of any pressing threats, Woodall-Vogg said, but they are making sure to train their chief inspectors and election inspectors accordingly.

Regarding cyber security concerns for this year, Woodall-Vogg said the most prominent one she has heard is centered around wrong information spreading through social platforms.

“The most recent threat has been a concern about them [foreign influences] creating misinformation about election results on Election Day,” said Woodall-Vogg. “But we continue to work really closely with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. They have created, over the past four year, lots of different security protocols.”

With everything compiled together, this election certainly proves to be a different one, especially in the sense of results.

Elections results for the city are expected to be delayed as processing absentee ballots takes much longer than voting machines.

Woodall-Vogg stressed that any absentee voters able to do so should return their ballots as soon as possible.

“I’m encouraging voters if they already have their absentee ballots, don’t delay and don’t wait until the last minute to return it,” Woodall-Vogg said. “But at the same time, voters certainly have that right, especially if they’re on the fence.”