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Green Bay receives over $1 million in grants for fall election safety

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 7:53 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -Five cities in Wisconsin, including Green Bay, are getting grant money from a national nonprofit to help with upcoming elections during the pandemic.

For the past several weeks, city officials in Green Bay have been working along side officials in Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine to put together the 'Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan 2020.' In the plan, each city lays out exactly what they need, personnel and money wise, to hold safe and secure elections in the fall.

Collectively, the cities will get about $6.3 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. According to its website, it is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making elections more 'professional, inclusive, and secure.'

Of the $6.3 million -- the City of Milwaukee will get $2,154,500, the City of Madison will get $1,271,788, the City of Green Bay will get $1,093,400, the City of Kenosha will get $862,779 and the City of Racine will get $942,100.

"We are really excited to put the funds to work to make sure that every Green Bay resident has the opportunity to vote safely and securely in August and November," said Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich.

To make sure the falls election doesn't resemble April's primary in Green Bay, where voters waited for hours in long lines to vote, Genrich said the city will split the money into different categories.

In the 21 page plan, here's how Green Bay said it would spend the $1,093,400.

$47,000 -- Provide assistance to help voters comply with absentee ballot requests and certification requirements.

Mayor Genrich said they would hire voter navigators to help residents through the process.

"Those people will be tasked with really getting out in the community and finding out where we can engage better with individuals in groups that might not have participated in the past," said Mayor Genrich. "They could also serve as witnesses, which is essential to the absentee voting process. Everyone who votes absentee needs a witness to verify that they've filled out the ballot properly, so these folks will be really helpful in getting out in community and encouraging people to vote safely and securely."

$50,000 -- Utilize secure drop-boxes to help with the return of absentee ballots.

In addition to the one already at city hall, the goal would be to install secure drop off boxes at Green Bay libraries, police community buildings and several other sites.

$145,000 -- Deploy additional staff and/or technology improvements to expedite and improve accuracy of absentee ballot processing.

In the plan, the city said it needs 45 additional staff to process absentee ballot requests before the election and to open and verify envelopes on election day.

As of June, 5,162 voters have already requested absentee ballots for August 2020 and 4,859 have already requested absentee ballots for November 2020.

$35,000 -- Expand in-person early voting

Mayor Genrich said the city would like to add more in-person early voting sites on the east and west side’s of the city. The City is planning to offer early voting starting two weeks before each election, with several weekdays and Saturdays available.

$215,000 -- Resources to conduct voter outreach and education.

"We are going to be investing a good deal of funds in outreach efforts, letting them know voting by mail is safe and secure and really the best way to participate," said Mayor Genrich.

The city would like to reach potential voters through an 'every door direct mail.' The city would also look into paid advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in multiple languages to reach all voters.

In the plan, city officials said ,"To assist new voters, the City would also like resources to help residents obtain required documents (i.e. birth

certificates) which are needed to get a valid state ID needed for voting. These

grant funds would be distributed in partnership with key community

organizations including churches, educational institutions, and organizations

serving African immigrants, LatinX residents, and African Americans.

$174,000 -- Launch poll worker recruitment, training and safety efforts.

The city would like to hire 380 poll workers for each election this fall, increasing poll worker salaries by 50 percent.

$426,000 -- Ensure safe and efficient election day administration.

Mayor Genrich said the city would like to purchase electronic poll books to reduce voter lines, a high speed tabulator to count absentee ballots quicker and protective equipment for each polling location.

"This is not just a benefit for August and November elections, but these investments we will be able to make in election infrastructure will be able to bear fruit down the line as well," said Mayor Genrich.

Green Bay's 2020 election budget is $329,820. In the plan, officials wrote, "All five jurisdictions spent all or most of the budgeted resources for all of 2020 on the extraordinary circumstances this Spring. If no plan is approved, it will leave communities like ours with no choice but to make tough decisions between health and the right to vote; between budget constraints and access to fundamental rights."

Because the money awarded to all five Wisconsin cities is a grant, it does not have to be paid back.

“This is a huge savings to taxpayers in City of Green Bay,” said Mayor Genrich. “It won’t be necessary for taxpayers to support these additional opportunities.”

Mayor Genrich said he will take the news back to the Ad HOC election committee, the finance committee and city council to work out the details of the grant.

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