After Republicans fought to keep Wisconsin’s April 7 election on track as planned amid the coronavirus outbreak, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos worked at a polling place in his district, covered head to toe in protective gear.
Vos, R-Rochester, volunteered to work at a Burlington polling site after thousands of poll workers across the state stayed home to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus. The election occurred despite efforts by Democrats to avoid in-person voting, and as health officials warned against such gatherings in the middle of a pandemic.
“You are incredibly safe to go out,” Vos told the Racine Journal Times on Election Day.
His garb drew swift criticism from voters who say the Republican-controlled Legislature forced the state to hold an unsafe election.
One Facebook post shared more than 4,000 times articulated that anger. “The election workers he forced to work today do not have equivalent protection,” the April 7 post stated.
The city of Burlington provided workers at its one in-person polling site with the same gear that Vos wore. But many poll workers across the state did not have that same level of protection.
Let’s see where the Facebook claim lands.
The claim: Robin Vos wore protective gear that 'election workers he forced to work … do not have.'
Quick reminder: The April 7 election took place after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried first to move the election to all mail, but the Republican-controlled Legislature rebuffed his request and ended a special session without action.
Evers then issued an executive order that would have delayed in-person voting until June. Vos and Republicans took the matter to the state Supreme Court, where the conservative majority reversed the order hours later.
Now, back to the Facebook post.
A video from the Journal Times, along with photos that circulated on social media, show Vos wearing a face mask, gloves and protective gown. When asked about his personal protective equipment, a staffer for Vos referred to a tweet by the Assembly speaker.
“A requirement for working at the polls was to wear PPE to protect the public and the workers,” Vos tweeted. “EVERY single person working at the polling place wore the same gear, not just me.”
Burlington City Administrator Carina Walters said the city consolidated two in-person voting locations into a single drive-thru site at its Department of Public Works garage. The city received PPE from the Racine County Emergency Operations Center, plus some from the Burlington Fire Department.
Burlington provided all poll workers with the same equipment Vos wore and also took their temperatures before and after shifts, Walters said.
“Our PPE policy for the day was to treat all persons as if they had COVID-19,” she said.
A look across the state
Vos was not the only poll worker wearing a gown, mask and gloves in Burlington. Beyond that protection, Vos’ tweet also shows other workers (not him) wearing face shields.
But the Facebook post did not specify Burlington. The original poster told PolitiFact Wisconsin he preferred to let it speak for itself.
So what kind of PPE did poll workers in other communities use?
The Wisconsin Elections Commission provided surgical masks and gloves to local clerks, along with sanitizing products. Gowns and face shields were not included, per the commission’s April 3 memo.
Milwaukee County provided municipalities with surgical masks and gloves but did not have access to gowns, said county Clerk George Christenson. Election workers in the city of Milwaukee had gowns, masks and gloves, but no eye shields, according to Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht.
Madison put poll workers behind a glass barrier and offered gloves, along with face shields for people working in close proximity. Poll workers in Green Bay also sat behind a glass barrier and wore masks, but not gowns.
Vos’ wife, Michelle Litjens Vos, wore only gloves at a polling place in Rochester, the Journal Times reported.
That means many people in Wisconsin worked the polls on Election Day and didn’t look at all like Vos. Still, poll workers outside Burlington had access to some of the same equipment he did.
Our ruling: Partly false
We rate this claim partly false. Other poll workers in Burlington wore the same gear as Vos, so he didn’t receive any special treatment there like the claim implies. Poll workers in other parts of the state had some – but not necessarily all – of the same equipment used by Vos.
Our fact-check sources
Email from Kit Beyer, communications director for Speaker Robin Vos, April 9, 2020.
Tweet from Robin Vos, Twitter, April 8, 2020.
Racine Journal Times live video, Facebook, April 7, 2020.
Vos explains wearing full PPE at polls, Tuesday video received national attention, Racine Journal Times, accessed April 9, 2020.
Election Day supplies — COVID 19, Wisconsin Elections Commission, April 3, 2020.
City of Madison Election Day memo, April 4, 2020.
Email from Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, April 9, 2020.
Interview with Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson, April 9, 2020.
Email from Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, April 9, 2020.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Did Wis. lawmaker Robin Vos get more PPE at the polls?