F.G., 59, a retired librarian in Milwaukee, WI

I am a retired librarian for the city of Milwaukee. Most of my days are fairly uneventful with a lot of home time so being quarantined really shouldn’t have been that much different than my usual life. But in February, I was contacted by the Milwaukee Election Commission to take a position as a temporary office worker. The head of the election commission was an old friend and I had helped out previously in other elections.

At first I was mostly doing data entry and filing, but when time came to start getting out the absentee ballots, I volunteered to report to the city warehouse to work on getting out the majority of those to the people who had signed up a head of time. Other times when I had taken part it was at most a three day job with people in the office sending out the ballots to people requesting them after that point.

This election was different though. COVID 19 was here and everyone was urged to vote absentee. What normally would have taken 3 days, went on for over 3 weeks. My niece, a senior at college in St. Paul had been sent home and was looking for a job to help pay her rent for the apartment she was no longer living in. She joined me for a while but her mother worried about her working in a room with about 20 other people and online classes started so she dropped out. Many of the regulars who were elderly and some with health problems also began to disappear. They were replaced by city workers whose departments were deemed nonessential. Workers whose attitude varied depending on whether they volunteered or were “volunteered “. We went from about 20 to perhaps 50 some days. We were able to spread out in the warehouse but the larger numbers made me nervous.

I had previously had pulmonary embolisms and was a little concerned but at 59, I was a fairly young retiree and felt strongly about voting rights so I kept coming back and did a lot more hours than the 20 a week I had originally agreed to. I also waited two and a half hours in line to get my temperature taken to join the 250 people who helped process the 100,000 absentee ballots on the day of the election and after. I did feel a little guilty about putting myself out there but felt since I lived alone, I was better suited to do it than others. But I do have people I am somewhat responsible for. An elderly father whose neighbors died of the virus, a sister and friend who relied on me for trips to the ER for non virus reasons, an elderly cat dying of kidney disease. So it did feel like a trade off.

The sense of accomplishment vs. the responsibilities I suddenly seemed to have. But even after our elected officials turned the whole thing into a bit of a shit show, I am glad I did it and wish that it had gone on longer so that we could have given all Wisconsin voters the chance to avoid the polls and vote from the safety of their homes. I am hoping that Wisconsin and the country will learn from the mistakes made in our election and figure out a way to better safeguard our election in November if this is still our reality, and if possible I will be there to help.

[submitted on 4/14/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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