Racine election
© Wisconsin Spotlight
Racine Wisconsin • Waiting to Vote
The City of Racine is continuing to use grants, paid for by the nonprofit that received significant funding from the founder of Facebook, to invest in election equipment that can be used long after the pandemic is over. On Monday, the city moved closer to buying 40 new poll booths with the goal of improving handicap access.

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted unanimously to waive the formal bidding process and purchase 40 four-station voting booths from Inclusion Solutions that allow "all voters — with and without disabilities — (to) vote at the same booth," according to the producer's website. Acquiring the booths would ensure all of Racine's 36 wards have a modern, accessible voting booth. The City Council is scheduled for a final vote on the purchase Tuesday.

The cost would be $34,753.40 and will be paid with funds from grants provided by, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), the nonprofit that Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, donated more than $300 million ahead of the 2020 presidential election that Democrat Joe Biden went on to win over incumbent Republican Donald Trump.

CTCL donated to more than 200 Wisconsin communities, with the lion's shares going to the state's five largest cities: Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha.

Private funds for public elections

Critics have claimed that laws were broken since the money wasn't distributed evenly. However, Wisconsin has no laws against municipalities accepting donations for the operation of elections, although some Republicans in the Legislature are pushing for new laws to amend or ban the practice.

Racine received nearly $1.6 million in grants from CTCL and has nearly $200,000 remaining, Finance Director Kathleen Fischer said. The funds must be used by June 30.

Movable voting booth

In the coming months, the city is also expecting to receive a "mobile voting precinct" the City Council approved the purchase of in August 2020 using CTCL money, to be purchased from Burlington RV.

Despite the name, the "mobile voting precinct" won't literally be a voting precinct that rolls through streets like an ice cream truck, allowing for people to run up and vote — it is illegal for voting booths in Wisconsin to be roving.

Instead, it is expected to be used for early voting at different locations: perhaps parking outside a community center for a set number of hours one day and then at a park the next. All dates and locations for voting would be announced a certain number of days ahead of Election Day — the number of days of notice required differ depending on what type of election it is, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission; for example, it's 40 days for a special municipal election.

There is also the possibility of using the vehicle for voter registration events.

City staff became interested in getting a movable voting booth during elections affected by the pandemic in 2020. Poll workers faced issues when operating elections from inside structures that resembled shipping containers, such as heat or air conditioning failing and needing to run lengthy extension cords into nearby buildings. This vehicle, the city hopes, would negate those problems.

Accessible voting booths

voting booths
© unknown
Four station voting booth
City Clerk Tara Coolidge explained the four-station voting booths are new to the market and sold exclusively through Inclusion Solutions. However, the booths have multiple benefits, including that they fold up, making them easy to store, move and set up.

"Essentially, this comes with a smaller storage capacity," Coolidge said.

Due to the funds from the CTCL grant, the city has been able to make a number of purchases to support elections, including electronic poll books, so it was necessary to purchase poll booths with smaller storage requirements, Coolidge explained. Secondly, the purchase will ensure that every ward in Racine will be accessible and approved under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lastly, the four-station allows for more light for voters while also providing privacy.

According to Coolidge, many of the current poll booths have aged and are in disrepair. "I don't know how many people have been out to vote lately, but our poll booths could use a little love," she told the committee.

Some of the polling places cannot use the electricity of the poll booths due to broken lights and power cords, according to Coolidge.

Alderman John Tate II raised a concern because people might not be able to social distance using this particular booth style. However, Coolidge said the design of the booth would ensure they could be easily wiped down between uses.