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Wisconsin axes stadium voting in Milwaukee, but says it's just fine in lily-white Green Bay

Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ home court, will not host early polling as officials had planned.
Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ home court, will not host early polling as officials had planned.
Photo: (Getty Images)

This is what voter suppression looks like.

In Milwaukee, the largest and most racially diverse city in Wisconsin, voters will be denied a chance to vote in two large election supercenters that would make socially-distant voting possible. In Green Bay, a smaller, whiter, and more conservative district, voters can cast their vote directly outside Lambeau Field on election day.

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“Johnsonville Tailgate Village,” an enclosed space in the Lambeau Field parking lot, is still an official polling place, according to the city of Green Bay’s website.

Nearly a week after Wisconsin Republicans took aim at the Bucks’ and Brewers’ plans to use mascots to get out the vote, election officials in Milwaukee have now thrown out plans to use the Bucks and Brewers stadium for early voting, altogether, citing legal concerns.

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Milwaukee’s city election commission originally planned to use Fiserv Forum and Miller Park from October 20 to November 1 as early-voting and absentee ballot drop-off sites. Officials never planned to use the arena as an election day polling facility, for reasons that remain unclear — Milwaukee’s election commission did not return a request for comment. But in a statement, the board’s executive director, Claire Woodall-Vogg, said plans to turn these arenas into early voting precincts came too late. On Monday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission said that early voting sites must have been established by June 12. The plan to use Milwaukee sports venues had been put in place on September 1.

Citing a recent legal ruling in the state, Woodall-Vogg said early ballots cast in Milwaukee arenas could be challenged and nullified as a result.

“We want residents of Milwaukee to feel complete and unwavering confidence that their ballot will be counted in the election and this action (canceling the plan) reflects that commitment,” Woodall-Vogg said in a statement.

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The Packers announced their stadium voting plans in August. But their facility will only be used on Election Day.

Milwaukee is a sizable blue dot in the battleground state of Wisconsin. It’s a city that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But the state swung Republican that year for the first time since 1984. In the last presidential election, Trump narrowly won Wisconsin by less than a one percentage point.

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Because of the Electoral College, this year’s election will, again, come down to a few states.

Wisconsin is one of them.

Milwaukee’s racial demographics, too, do not look like the rest of the state. According to the census estimates, white people make up around 45 percent of the city while Blacks make up 39 percent. The state, in total, has a 6.7 percent Black population.

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While the city of Milwaukee has decided that the Bucks and Brewers will not be able to use their facilities for early voting anymore, Wisconsin Republicans do not seem to have a problem with Green Bay using Packer facilities for election day voting. If they did, maybe they would’ve sent a letter to Titletown, too.

Green Bay (76.7 percent white, and four percent Black) is in Brown County, a conservative stronghold in the state. It’s a place Trump has visited throughout his presidency. Just last weekend, before his coronavirus diagnosis, the president was supposed to hold a rally in Green Bay on Saturday.

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Brown County went to Trump, 52-41, in 2016.

The move to make stadium voting a reality stemmed from two issues: long lines — primarily for Black folks — at polling places, and the need to create election facilities that allow for social distancing and enhanced COVID safety measures. The Election Supercenter Project and LeBron James’ voting rights group, More Than A Vote, have been fierce advocates for the stadium voting policy.

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The Milwaukee Bucks, too, were the first professional sports team to strike for justice in response to Jacob Blake’s shooting in nearby Kenosha. After the strike, the NBA and the league’s players association agreed to turn their arenas into poling places, responding to the players’ demands.

Wisconsin is not immune to issues of voter suppression. In April, state voters saw long lines and chaos at the polls in the pandemic primary in April. That election was a clusterfuck, to put it mildly.

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In a statement regarding today’s decision to not use the Bucks’ arena as a polling place, the team wrote: “while we were excited to welcome voters to Fiserv Forum to cast their ballots in a safe and accessible way, we remain just as committed to encouraging and educating people to vote and making our voices heard in this election.”

Alex Lasry, SVP of the Bucks, tweeted that the news was “obviously disappointing BUT we don’t want the potential for any votes to be illegitimate. It’s become increasingly harder for people, especially, communities of color, to find safe and accessible places to vote and we were excited for FF to provide that space.”

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The Mayor of Milwaukee, Democrat Tom Barrett, also tried to reassure voters in his city. “We are doing everything within our ability to make sure every person in this city has a fair chance to cast a ballot and regret we are not able to pursue the unique opportunity of integrating these two well-known locations,” he said.

The Brewers have yet to comment on the issue.

The city says it will still have thirteen early voting locations across Milwaukee.

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It’s not far-fetched to think that stadium voting in Milwaukee this year could’ve helped swing an election in a battleground state.

But don’t be fooled. It’s not shocking to see Wisconsin Republicans taking aim at Milwaukee stadiums. It’s just bad for democracy.

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