Registered voters in the City of Milwaukee can expect to receive an absentee ballot application by mail along with a postage-paid return envelope to participate in the 2020 general election this November, after the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approved a new program called SafeVote on April 21.

The resolution, authored by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, directs the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission to create the SafeVote program by the end of May. It would be the first time in Milwaukee history for the city initiate the mailing of an absentee ballot application to all registered voters in the city, and reach more than 300,000 individuals.

“On April 7, more than 18,000 Milwaukee citizens bravely exercised their sacred right to vote by going to the polls in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alderwoman Dimitrijevic. “The world watched as Milwaukee voters and poll workers wore masks and practiced social distancing to protect the health of our City for an in-person vote that was dangerous, ill-advised and – as one voter noted in a now viral protest sign – ridiculous.”

With just five of its usual 180 polling locations open, long lines of voters stretched for blocks on April 7, and health officials continue to connected new cases of COVID-19 to in-person voting. Even with the long lines, a majority of the ballots cast in Milwaukee were absentee. The city reported a total of 95,168 ballots were cast, while more than 75,000 absentee ballots were returned.

SafeVote was introduced by newly-elected Alder Marina Dimitrijevic. Dimitrijevic is the former state director for the Wisconsin Working Families Party, a grassroots independent political organization

“The right to vote is sacred in our democracy, and I am grateful for the support of my colleagues on SafeVote. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has made congregating in groups a threat to public health, and we recognize that voting by mail must be seen as the best way to ensure the best possible participation in a vital election,” added Alderwoman Dimitrijevic. “We can’t allow another horrific election day to happen in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Republicans have proven just how far they’ll go to stop our most vulnerable communities from voting. We need to make sure every single vote is counted this fall, and that means giving all voters the resources they need to vote from the safety of their own homes.”

The measure’s primary co-sponsor, Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, said the scenes across Milwaukee on April 7 during the spring primary election must not be repeated in November.

“The spectacle of thousands of citizens gathering to vote on April 7, while in a way inspiring, was an unacceptable danger to their own well-being and that of others,” Alderman Rainey said. “Affording residents the opportunity to vote by mail in an efficient and safe manner is the right way to go this fall.”

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, said that the public needed to think about how people will have access to a ballot and voting this fall, particularly since experts are forecasting a prolonged COVID-19 landscape.

“April occurred in an environment of chaos and a lot of instability, so I think the more proactive we can be in creating safe opportunities for the public, the better,” said Albrecht. “As we develop this plan, we are really going to pay attention to ensuring all communities, and all Milwaukee residents are returned to having the same opportunity to vote in the election.”

Albrecht acknowledged that communities of people were left behind in the last election. His office is developing a plan to address that, particularly regarding people in poverty who struggled with the online application process.

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