Portraits of a pandemic: Milwaukee voters go to the polls

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Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

Despite the pandemic, these Milwaukee residents showed up to vote at Marshall High School on April 7. "We need some changes in the city and the country, and I’m here and I’m going to vote come hell or high water," says Glenda Davenport, center. Also pictured are Fred Real, left, and Greg Michel, right.

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Photographer Coburn Dukehart describes her experience covering the election in Milwaukee, recorded for Inside Stories podcast.

Milwaukee voters turned out by the thousands to cast their ballots Tuesday during an extraordinary time in history. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a  “Safer at Home” directive on March 12, ordering most residents to stay inside and away from each other if possible — in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Evers launched a last-minute effort to delay the election, only to see Republican lawmakers outmaneuver him in court. Health experts called in-person voting dangerous during the crisis. But the process went forward,  looking nothing like a typical election. Milwaukee whittled its usual 180 polling places to five, citing a lack of poll workers willing to staff the election during the pandemic. 

Risking their health, these Milwaukee residents — many clad in protective gear, showed up. They waited, sometimes for hours, to participate in democracy. 

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Ameshia Scott waits in line to vote outside the polling site at Riverside University High School in Milwaukee on April 7. The city reduced its usual 180 polling places to five, citing a lack of poll workers willing to staff the election during the pandemic.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Darryl Moore and his friend who goes by “Ms. Red” wait in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School in Milwaukee on April 7. Moore works for Milwaukee Public Schools as a school performance coordinator, and Ms. Red is retired, but still teaches cooking classes at Marshall High School during the day.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Hatim and Munira Badani wait in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School after a rainstorm drenched the area. They had been waiting in line about 45 minutes and still had about 15 minutes to go before gaining access to the polling site. Hatim has lived in Milwaukee for 45 years, and Munira for 20. “They should have canceled it,” she says. “But we came out anyway because it’s so important.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Stewart Parrett waits in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School. He says he’s a regular voter and didn’t mind waiting in a long line to cast his ballot. “I’m being cautious,” he says. “It’s time for change.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Kim Mapp waits in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School. She had been waiting in line for about an hour, and was taking turns voting with her daughter, who was at home watching her children. “I’m just here to vote, I’m not concerned about my health,” she says.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Joel and Tracy Lee wait in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School. There had recently been a rainstorm, and poll workers had distributed trash bags to use as ponchos. When asked what his motivation was for voting, despite the pandemic, Joel said: “Our motivation (to vote) is our people. They were spit upon, chased by dogs, even killed. For them to do that, for this, I was coming.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Mariah and Albert Robbins wait in their car to vote curbside outside the polling site at Marshall High School. They had been waiting more than two and a half hours with their children, Aliana, 7, and Jaelin, 10, and were just approaching the front of the line. “We always vote. We expected a line but not like this,” Albert says. “I think the logistics are horrible. It’s already disenfranchising folks and now this. This is a city with 500,000 people. There should be more that can be done.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Melanie Williams waits in line to vote outside the polling site at Marshall High School. She is a nurse at a Milwaukee hospital and had come to vote after her shift. “I’m led by prayer and the issues I want to change” she says. “I wanted to have a voice.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Greg Michel, 55, waits in line outside the polling site at Marshall High School. “I have to vote. I always have to vote,” he says. “People died for the right to vote, so I can stand in line for a few hours. I’ve never missed a vote since 18. I’d be here no matter what the weather.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Reona and Thong Vang wait in line outside the polling site at Marshall High School. “I think it could have been postponed. I think there’s too many political battles. If someone does get sick are they going to pay for someone’s hospital bills?,” Thong says. Reona says: “It’s unnecessary to have the election today. We’ve taken so many measures for people to stay safe. For the governor to have had us stay home, and then come out today, people will get sick, it’s just inevitable.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Fred Real, 25, waits in line with his father-in-law, Larry Borth, outside the polling site at Marshall High School. He and Borth said they were both voting because their wives told them to come.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Larry Borth, 59, waits in line with his son-in-law, Fred Real, outside the polling site at Marshall High School. He said he requested an absentee ballot that never arrived, even though he could see online that it was sent March 23. He says he wasn’t too worried about his health during in-person voting, despite the pandemic.
Tachelle, Tylan and Gary Huff wait outside the polling site at Marshall High School. Tylan, 18, was waiting to vote in his first election. The family thought the election should have been postponed, but “it’s our duty to vote,” Gary says.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Glenda Davenport, 62, waits in line outside the polling site at Marshall High School. “I was highly upset that they didn’t cancel it today,” she says. “They made it very inconvenient for people to vote since they closed most of the polls in Milwaukee. It was a selfish move. We need some changes in the city and the country, and I’m here and I’m going to vote come hell or high water.”

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