Green Bay voters wait in line past midnight to cast ballot in primary election

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Some Green Bay voters waited past midnight to cast a ballot in the state's spring primary election, capping off a frustrating day of long lines due to consolidated polling locations and increased safety precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

People wait to vote at Green Bay West High School. April 7, 2020. (WBAY Photo)

"I thought it was my duty to stand in line and do it the old-fashioned way," voter Earyll Guest told Action 2 News.

Guest was the last voter to cast a ballot at Green Bay West High School. That was at 12:30 a.m. Some voters reported waiting as long as four hours in line.

Polling locations were consolidated in Green Bay to two locations--West and East High School. The City of Green Bay did not accept help at the polling places from the Wisconsin National Guard.

The polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, but those still in line at that time were able to cast a ballot.

Those who arrived past 8 p.m. were turned away.

Others say they requested an absentee ballot, but never got it in the mail, forcing them to stand in line due to increased public health procedures. The Wisconsin Elections Commission said those procedures would slow down parts of the process.

Action 2 News caught up with voters at City Hall dropping off their absentee ballot before the 8 p.m. deadline. Some of those voters received their ballot on Tuesday. All absentee ballots had to turned into a clerk or polling place or postmarked by April 7.

"I got my ballot in the mail today actually. I was actually kind of surprised, I was thinking I wasn't going to get it because I heard people weren't getting theirs for two weeks already," said voter Alex Schneider.

"It's pretty nuts, I mean you read a lot about it in the news and what's going on around the world, but it never hits home until it affects your normalcy of your daily life, which is really what's been going on the last couple of weeks," added voter Nate Kinnard.

Others weren't so lucky. Voter Dan Humecki had to leave the line to take his sons home for dinner. He didn't make it back in time.

"I stopped by earlier to try to vote and the line was wrapped around the building, it looked like it was wrapped around twice, so I had my sons with me so we we needed to eat dinner, so we went home thinking I'd be able to come back later and vote, but the polls were closed," said Humecki. "I was hoping they might extended it but that didn't happen."

As of 8:15 a.m., Wisconsin clerks had recorded more than 1 million absentee ballots returned. CLICK HERE to view the numbers in graph form.

Operations at the Green Bay East polling place wrapped up just after 11 p.m. Operations at Green Bay West wrapped up close to 1 a.m.

Action 2 News reporter Kati Anderson says final in-person ballot numbers broke down like this:

EAST - 1,338
WEST - 1,320

"We're all in this together, the patriotism, it's just we're here," says Guest. "We just knew this is what we all had to do."

The Republican Party of Brown County criticized Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich for not utilizing activated National Guard members at the West and East polling locations. "While other large municipalities, including Madison, had no difficulties processing the vote today, Green Bay, fell short leaving long lines and frustrated voters. Mayor Genrich’s refusal to use trained National Guard’s men and women exhibited a classic failure in judgement and leadership. We applaud all the resilient poll workers who persevered the integrity of the ballot box," reads a statement from the Brown County GOP.

Genrich responded Wednesday with a statement on his Facebook page.

"There are some who question the decisions we made in staffing only two polling locations in a city of our size. 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. We 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," Genrich says.

CLICK HERE to read the full statement.

Green Bay had filed a lawsuit in effort to delay the election, but it was dismissed.

"From the onset of this pandemic, I have tried to make every single decision with this community’s health as the absolute priority. I rang every alarm bell at my disposal to prevent yesterday’s election from occurring in-person, for fear of how it would endanger those who participated. I understand the frustration people feel about yesterday’s election, and I share it 1000%, but please 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," says Genrich.

There were no such issues in the Fox Valley. Voting was steady, but there were not the long lines that were seen in Green Bay.

Vote totals will be released on April 13, according to the WEC. That means we will not have results until that date.

"The U.S. Supreme Court decision also did not alter the provision in [District Court] Judge [William] Conley’s amended order which prohibits the reporting of results until April 13. In order to ensure consistent compliance with that order, the number of ballots will be counted on Election Night but votes will not be counted until April 13," reads a statement from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Gov. Tony Evers filed a last-minute executive order Monday in attempt to delay the election, but decisions by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court allowed in-person voting to continue as scheduled.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Monday that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers could not postpone the state’s presidential primary, striking down his order to move the election to June 9 over coronavirus outbreak fears.

The court's conservative majority ruled 4-2 that Evers lacked the authority to move the election on his own. Evers had previously admitted that he did not have the authority to postpone the election.

"Although I remain deeply concerned about the public health implications of voting in-person today, I am overwhelmed by the bravery, resilience, and heroism of those who are defending our democracy by showing up to vote, working the polls, and reporting on this election," Gov. Evers tweeted Tuesday. "Thank you for giving our state something to be proud of today. Please stay as safe as possible, Wisconsin."

Several groups had filed lawsuits to delay the election. A federal judge last week refused to postpone the election, but did rule that absentee ballots could be counted through April 13. State Republicans asked the United States Supreme Court to intervene and stop the count extension.

Monday night, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Republicans and blocked the plan to extend absentee voting until April 13.

The U.S. Supreme Court split 5-4, with the five Republican-appointed justices siding with the national and state party to overturn a lower court ruling that expanded absentee voting.

The WEC had raised concerns last week as some locations faced a critical shortage of volunteers willing to work at the polls due to the public health crisis.

More than 2,400 Wisconsin National Guard members were activated to to help at the polls.

Guard members dressed in civilian clothing served at polls in 71 of the state's 72 counties. Along with serving as poll workers, they made sure polls were stocked with hand sanitizer, wipes and spray bottles.

“It was a good experience,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Ard, a Green Bay, Wisconsin resident assigned as a public affairs noncommissioned officer in the Milwaukee-based 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade serving as a poll worker at the Allouez Village Hall. “There were many volunteers, some wearing masks, but the training was well planned by the village. They have a good plan and the Guard is here to provide support in any way we can.”

Gov. Evers thanked the National Guard in a tweet Tuesday:

Read the original version of this article at www.wbay.com.