Brown County Clerk says election in Green Bay was mismanaged

Published: Apr. 8, 2020 at 7:38 PM CDT
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We're learning more Wednesday about major problems during the spring election which many people say prevented them from exercising their right to vote.

Action 2 News showed viewers the long lines at Green Bay polling places Wednesday after COVID-19 led the city to consolidate voting locations. Fewer poll workers and extra safety precautions meant the voting process took longer of each person.

At Green Bay West High School, one of two polling locations in the city, operations didn't wrap up until about 1 a.m. on Wednesday.

Earyll Guest was the last person to vote in Tuesday's election at Green Bay West High School around 12:30 a.m., but that wasn't the only line he waited in on Tuesday.

"My girlfriend had to vote elsewhere and I had to vote here so we braved two lines," said Guest. "Collectively about 6.5 to 7 hours of waiting."

Guest, along with hundreds of other voters, waited for hours to vote in Green Bay.

"Unacceptable. To me that's unacceptable," said Sandy Juno, Brown County Clerk. "Clearly, the size of Green Bay only having two polling locations with one tabulator at each location was insufficient."

Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich declined an interview with Action 2 News on Wednesday, but in a Facebook Post he wrote, "I want to stress that this was not an option we chose eagerly. In fact, it was our last resort. Our contingency plan, once first realizing a significant decline in available poll workers, involved the use of our four high school gyms. That number fell to two locations as the number of experienced and trained poll workers fell further."

A city staff member told Action 2 News that over the past few weeks the city lost 85 percent of its experienced poll workers. In an effort to maintain safety, the staffer said they needed to consolidate and find locations big enough to allow social distancing.

When Action 2 News asked Juno if she had any control over Green Bay's decision to only have two polling places, she said 'no.'

In the Facebook Post, Mayor Genrich goes on to say, along with City Clerk Kris Teske who also declined an interview with Action 2 News on Wednesday, that they "had the option of bringing inexperienced individuals into the process, but our city clerk and I did not feel comfortable implicating untrained city employees, members of the public, or members of the National Guard in a dangerous and stressful environment."

Yesterday’s election was an incredibly difficult one for those who voted in-person and for those who administered it. I...

Posted by Eric Genrich on Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Juno said the National Guard members were trained.

"The Wisconsin Election Commission trained all of the National Guard over the weekend. So they were all trained in elections. They just didn't have practical experience working in the polls," said Juno.

The city staffer told Action 2 News that by the time the city found out that the National Guard could help, it was a little too late because they had already had their plans in place. However, Green Bay did have one National Guard member help out at the polls. Along with volunteers and three election technicians, Action 2 News was told the city had 10 poll workers at West High School and 9 poll workers at East High.

Juno said the City of Green Bay could have had more help because she had about 50 National Guard members who could have helped out at the polling locations.

"On Sunday, I did talk to the mayor because I was looking for a site to dispatch the National Guard from on Monday. And he again reiterated that they did not need them and they did not want them," said Juno.

Action 2 News asked Juno if she could force Green Bay to use the National Guard members and she said, 'No. That is not under my control. That is a municipal function."

Juno said she had 140 National Guard members available to dispatch in Brown County. Of those, she used 92. Juno said she had 48 that were on-call Tuesday.

Action 2 News asked Juno if Green Bay could have called her to get those people and she said, 'all they had to do was notify us. we had a whole bunch of them on call. We had 48."

When Action 2 News asked Juno, after she received several calls from voters upset about the long lines, why she didn't call Green Bay saying she could send some help, she said, 'You can't talk to people when they have their phone automatically forwarded to voicemail.They did not reach out to us. "

"The failure yesterday was not because of COVID-19 because we had 1850 municipalities that successfully performed, all their elections went off with excellence. We had two that failed. (she is referring to the City of Milwaukee and City of Green Bay) That was not COVID 19 that was mismanagement of the election."

In the Facebook Post, Mayor Genrich said he shares people's frustration, but that voters should know 'that we made every effort to keep the community safe, in the face of our obligation to hold a mass gathering in the midst of a pandemic."