City of Fitchburg
Going into the Tuesday, June 23, Common Council meeting, city clerk Tracy Oldenburg planned to ask alders to vote down a request she had made two weeks before.
After an hourlong debate over polling locations, alders agreed to do so, voting unanimously to keep all four polling places the same for the August election.
Earlier in June, Oldenburg had proposed that the city condense the current four polling places into one for the Tuesday, Aug. 11, primary election because of a lack of available poll workers. But that changed within two weeks – by the June 23 meeting, she had 68 workers available, up from the 44 people willing to work when she brought the resolution to the council, closer to the city’s ideal number of 77 people to work the polling locations.
“Part of the election process is to prepare for all scenarios – COVID-19 has added a new scenario, and up until this year, scheduling people to work at the polls has not been an issue,” she said. “We would prefer to have all polling locations up and running – this will help with social distancing, as well as not creating voter confusion as to where your polling location has changed.”
Before Oldenburg announced the increase of poll workers, almost 30 people either came to the meeting in person to speak, or wrote in about their disapproval of the plan, which turned into a conversation about equitable access to voting in the city.
Fitchburg resident Jen Shoepke told alders any resolution that would result in the condensing of polling places was worrisome for her because it would disenfranchise voters.
“To reduce four down to one, to even have that on the table, is really concerning to me,” she said. “Not only creating confusion around your location, not only setting up a dangerous precedent for what could happen with future elections such as a very large and important election in November, there’s access to polling locations … if it eliminates one voice, I don’t think it’s worth it.”
Ald. Dorothy Krause (Dist. 1) proposed an amendment to the resolution that would move the District 1 polling place to Redeemer City Church west of Verona Road, which was met with opposition from alders and city staff. Oldenburg told the council she would not have time to see the facility prior to the deadline for when polling locations have to be finalized, and many alders expressed desire to reduce voter confusion.
“Redeemer City Church, as they were planning it, planned it very specifically to be for the community, and they planned it to request that it be a polling place,” Krause said. “Both Verona Road and McKee Road are huge barriers to many, many people.”
Council rejected the amendment, by a 5-3 vote.
All four of the polling places in Fitchburg are outside each district’s respective boundaries. Some are more egregious than others – District 2’s polling location, at Fire Station No. 1 on Lacy Road, is just across the street from the border, while District 1’s polling location is across two major thoroughfares, both of which are under construction.
District 1 has a large socioeconomically challenged population, and many do not have access to a vehicle or a bus route to get to the polling place at Fire Station No. 2 on Marketplace Drive. The polling place for District 1 used to be in the King James Way fire station, but the city had to reassign it after it vacated the building and it was sold to a private owner.
Alders proposed other locations for the District 1 polling location during the discussion, including the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which is unusable because anyone who is a registered sex offender cannot step foot onto the property.
While Oldenburg discouraged alders from changing the polling place to a location other than Fire Station No. 2 for August, she said she’d be willing to consider moving the polling place for the November presidential election.
Other alders were in favor of waiting until the federal 2020 Census is complete and redistricting is done in 2021, that will account for the annexation of the Town of Madison in 2022. At that time, mayor Aaron Richardson said, the city can expect to add two polling locations, bringing the total up to six.
Alds. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2), Gabriella Gerhardt (D-2), Sarah Shroeder (D-3) and Shannon Strassman (D-3) all suggested they preferred waiting to add additional polling stations and adjust current locations until the redistricting is done, saying it would reduce voter confusion in where their polling place is. They all stated support for having a location closer to residents in District 1 near Verona Road for the November election.
“We know we are going to add more polling stations after we have the Census and after the annexation of the town, and we’re going to have a better idea of how and where there are going to be the new polling stations,” Arata-Fratta said.