Again this week, I am not including any events in the newsletter. Governor Evers has announced a "Safer at Home" policy today that effectively means that all but essential businesses and services will be closed from 8am on Wednesday, March 25, until Friday, April 24 at 8am. The order spells out a fairly generous definition of what is considered "essential" (see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article for a partial list of exempted types of stores), but we should all be staying home unless we need groceries, pharmacy items, or health care or we are taking care of someone else. Think of it this way: any other outing is a threat to your health and life or someone else's.
And that means voting by mail! So far, Governor Evers is not considering postponing the election. He is considering canceling all in-person voting, both in the weeks ahead of the election (early voting) and on election day itself. So only absentee ballots would count. This is a terrible idea and should be resisted unless the Governor significantly improves how absentee ballots are distributed. A group of voting rights organizations — Voces de la Frontera, Souls to the Polls, and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin among them — are urging people to call (at 608-266-1212) or email the Governor's office to demand that he postpone the election, as many other states have already done. Alternatively, you could urge him to send an absentee ballot to every registered voter and waive the photo ID requirement so that everyone who receives a ballot can vote. People who have moved and have not re-registered, people who are not registered at all, and students leaving universities might still be unable to vote, though.
Meanwhile, request an absentee ballot yourself by going online to myvote.wi.gov and following the prompts to "Vote Absentee." The easiest way to complete this process is to use your smartphone (a cell phone that has internet connections and a camera). Before you begin the process, you might want to watch a video that Citizen Action has produced. The clip walks through the entire process, including the step that most people find most challenging: taking and uploading a picture of your photo ID. If you don't have a smartphone or can't complete the online process for some other reason, you can print one and mail it. If you're ambitious and can reach people who may not be able to complete the online process easily, you could print several and put them on a porch or somewhere safe outside and let people know they can pick one up from you. If you are a participant in the online service Next Door, that might be a reasonable place to post. In most cases, people can drop the request off at their municipal office but call ahead to make sure. All the municipal buildings in the seven North Shore communities in Milwaukee County are closed to the public now, though government operations continue.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit on March 18, 2020, that called for a new deadline of April 3 for electronic and by-mail voter registration. On Friday, March 20, Judge William M. Conley issued an order that online registration remain open until March 30. The lawsuit "is also seeking to drop a requirement that voters provide photo identification when requesting absentee ballots, and to allow any absentee or vote by mail ballot postmarked by April 7 to be valid for the election." For now, Judge Conley denied the other requests, "leaving open the possibility that they could be dealt with down the road with additional briefing" (CNN.com, Friday, March 20. 2020). Keep an eye open for further rulings.
Although the extended deadline for registering to vote will potentially enable thousands of Wisconsites to participate in the April 7 election and those that follow, many voters — whether already registered or not — continue to encounter a range of problems with access to the ballot. In response to that issue, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin will shortly be launching its Voter Assistance Hotline. Trainings for staffing the hotline are happening today, Wednesday, and Thursday with shifts beginning Wednesday, March 25, at 8:30am - 1pm and 1pm - 5pm. Please sign up for trainings and shifts! Now is the time to do something to help your state while you are required to be at home. And if you or someone you know has had trouble completing the request for an absentee ballot, encourage them to call the Voter Assistance Hotline. Unfortunately, I do not yet have the number, so I will be sending out an additional email again this week when I do get the information.
Grassroots North Shore also needs your help to phone voters in our North Shore communities. We cannot canvass but we can contact voters to support Judge Jill Karofsky and to help voters request absentee ballots. Whitefish Bay and Bayside are automatically sending request forms to all registered voters in their communities. If you know of other communities doing this, please let me know ([email protected]. Most important: sign up to make calls at our Weekend of Action (3/28-29) page. Time is of the essence, so please sign up today. I will email you a script, instructions and a set of links to get you started. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is technically April 2. But the ballot must be received at the municipal clerk's office by 8pm on April 7. So absentee ballot requests may not be practical if people don't know about the process in the next few days or put off making the request until quite late. You can begin phoning as soon as you receive the link to the virtual phone bank!
In this kind of medical crisis, hospitals and health care workers need the support of their communities. Froedert is asking for donations of Personal Protective Equipment (aka PPE). PPE includes surgical and N95 masks, goggles, disposable gloves, and paper gowns. Donations of new, unused PPE can be directed to 262-532-5000 or [email protected] or dropped off in the donation box at the Integrated Service Center, N86 W12999 Nightingale Way, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051.
Those of you who can sew may want to help make masks, which continue to be in short supply. You can find one such pattern online. This pattern will set you back $8 but there are surely others you can find that are free. Happy searching. Although these kinds of masks are not as protective as N95s, they may still be useful for the general public. At the very least, wearing one discourages people from touching their faces! Another strategy for that difficult-to-perform practice — since we touch our faces constantly and unconsciously, apparently — is to wear a halloween mask. So be a super hero: wear a mask and wash your hands!
You should keep up to date on what is happening in Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties by consulting reputable sources like the North Shore Health Department and the Washington/Ozaukee County Health Department. Other good sources of information are the Wisconsin Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.