Monday, March 23, 2020

Oshkosh leaders look for ways to keep local democracy functioning with absentee voting, virtual meetings


By Miles Maguire
From absentee voting to virtual public meetings, Oshkosh leaders are looking for ways to keep local democracy functioning in the face of the coranavirus pandemic.


On Monday the city launched a campaign for 100% absentee voting by mail in next month’s election. The campaign is called “It’s as Easy as 1-2-3” to emphasize the ease with which citizens can vote this way. 

A key concern is that many poll workers are retirees, which places them in a high-risk category if they come down with COVID-19. If all voting is done by mail, the poll workers will not face repeated potential exposures from citizens casting their ballots in person. 

Absentee ballots can be requested by mail or online. They have to be postmarked by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7, or can be delivered through the dropbox at City Hall. The list of local candidates can be found here.

Meanwhile local leaders are looking for ways to maintain public participation in policymaking as they move to close meetings while trying to keep open channels for public access and comment.


Last week the school board decided to suspend public meetings. On Tuesday the Common Council is expected to vote to postpone or cancel all meetings of boards and commissions.

Meanwhile the county Board of Supervisors also appears headed in that direction. “I will recommend that the board adopt a policy that will allow electronic meetings at their reorganizational meeting after the election if not sooner,” said County Executive Mark Harris.

One snag is that “current rules require them to be in the chamber to vote,” Harris said.

Unless the situation turns around before the school board’s next scheduled meeting on April 8, “we will not meet physically,” Superintendent Vickie Cartwright told board members last week. “You will be on your computers.”

Public participation will be handled with a computer link that will be publicized to the community, she said.

The city’s plan is to limit all board, commission and council meetings “to matters requiring action reasonably necessary for response to the emergency or reasonably necessary for continuity of services,” according to a proposed ordinance.

No general citizen statement or public comment periods will be allowed. Where public participation is required by rule or law, arrangements will be made for in person comments to be made. Otherwise, comments can be sent by postal or electronic mail or placed in the City Hall dropbox.

The email address for written comments is citymgr@ci.oshkosh.wi.us.

The city’s public meetings will be streamed live at oshkoshmedia.org.

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