Blair Braun requested her Wisconsin absentee ballot weeks ago. It arrived at her school address but like so many students, she left her university to shelter in place at home. Since then, she has been waiting for it to get to her in Appleton, Wis., but with a last-minute decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that required all absentee ballots to be postmarked or dropped off by April 7, she did not want to risk not being counted.
"Do I wait and see if it comes today?" she asked rhetorically, "or do I just go get it over with? And I decided to go get it over with."
Braun went to vote at 8:30 a.m., surprised to find an empty polling station. She was in and out within minutes.
She reported a lack of personal protective equipment by poll workers, saying only some wore masks and gloves at her polling station. Social distancing was near impossible while assisting voters, although when she checked in, she was separated from the poll workers by a clear, solid partition.
Experiences vary around Wisconsin as poll workers scrambled to prepare for an election that the governor tried halting just hours before.
Legal challenges quickly ensued after Governor Tony Evers used an executive order Monday to postpone the primary election. After decisions by both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court stymied that plan Monday evening, Wisconsinites found out their election would proceed as planned and a previous extension of absentee ballots would no longer be recognized. If they wanted to vote, they would have to do so in person.
Normally, in-person voting is the standard. All states conduct elections in some variation of this way. But amid a coronavirus pandemic that counts thousands sick in Wisconsin, these are not normal times.
Voters like Braun have to choose between health and safety measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the right and duty of U.S. citizens to participate in democracy.
Braun chose to take the health risk but tried to protect herself.
"I wore a mask, a cloth mask that was an old dog bandana," she reported. She also wore gloves and wiped down her voting booth. Then took even more steps once she got home.
"I showered right away, put all my clothes into the washer, and started the wash," Braun explained.
For so many people in self-isolation, the risks of leaving the house extend beyond infecting themselves with coronavirus. That is the risk that had Barun most concerned. Her parents' absentee ballots did not arrive either.
"I don't want my mom and dad to go vote today," she said. "I was worried about my family having to vote and being exposed later because transfer is going to happen with this."
Despite describing herself as politically active — she said she has voted in every election — Braun did not want to push others to make the same choice she did.
"Was I willing to risk my health today? Yeah. Am I really upset about it? Yeah," she explained. "I can't in good conscience encourage people to go vote."
"No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Braun said.