RACINE — City of Racine officials are deep in preparation for an election amid a pandemic and a surge of absentee ballot requests.
"I’ve been thinking about absentee only because of my work and just worrying about the safety and the cleanliness," said voter Melina Cannon.
Cannon may soon be one of Racine's more than 10,000 voters who chose to cast an absentee ballot for this November.
"We definitely had such an influx of absentee ballots that requires more physical space than my office was able to hold. So we physically have picked up the city clerk's office and moved it down to Festival Hall," said Tara Coolidge, Racine's City Clerk and Treasury Manager.
According to her data, absentee ballot applications for this November election are more than five times higher than what they saw in 2016.
"We’re shifting a lot of our resources from being worried about in-person voting to essentially proactively helping people request and issue absentee ballots via mail," said Coolidge.
Racine is implementing several changes to meet the demand including a voter registration event this Saturday that will give voters a place to drop off absentee ballots.
Coolidge added they will soon install specially locked drop boxes with security cameras and additional mobile offices for absentee and early voting across the city. They got electronic poll books and created a new website with voting information for the city.
Coolidge says the April election coincided with the start of the pandemic and drained their budget. She went on to say about a million dollars in grant money will help them pull off the upcoming election.
"The grant money really really came through at a good time to help us navigate through the pandemic as far as personal protective equipment, barriers, the sneeze guards, gloves, masks, all of those things," said Coolidge. She added it will also cover the mobile offices and hazard pay for election officials among other things.
However, late Thursday a federal lawsuit was filed targeting the grant money that Racine and four other Wisconsin cities received. Those other cities are Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay and Kenosha. The money was distributed by a nonprofit organization, Center for Tech and Civic Life
Wisconsin Voters Alliance and seven of its members allege the cites are not states and have no legal authority to accept and use private federal election grants. They described it as bribery and claim the money was aimed at cities with high Democratic turnout.
The Center for Tech and Civic Life released the following statement:
This year, we’ve heard from countless election officials, from across the political spectrum, who simply don’t have the funding they need to provide a safe, secure voting process for their voters as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this moment of need, we feel so fortunate to be administering an open call grant program available to every local election department in every state in the union to ensure that they have the staffing, training, and equipment necessary so that this November every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and have their vote counted.
Since the launch of the CTCL COVID-19 Response Grant program open call, we’ve seen requests from every corner of the U.S. All eligible Americans deserve to have their vote count — regardless of political affiliation, whether they live in rural or urban communities, or somewhere in between. Over 1,100 election administrators across the country agree and have already applied for support. As a non-partisan organization backed by Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan officials, we are confident that these frivolous charges are without merit, and look forward to continuing this critical grant program in these unprecedented times.
A City of Kenosha official sent TMJ4 News a response detailing the money is being used for drop boxes, additional staffing for absentee ballot counting, new high-speed ballot tabulation, and marketing to tote. They added that the city is only asking individuals to vote.
TMJ4 News is waiting for a response from the City of Racine on how the lawsuit could impact preparations.
Racine will host a drive-thru voter registration event Saturday September 26 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. at Festival Hall. Residents should bring proof of residence. You can visit voteracine.com for voter information.