Milwaukee Common Council unanimously backs early voting location to replace Midtown Center

A contract for a new early voting location that will replace the popular Midtown Center site gained unanimous approval from the Milwaukee Common Council Tuesday, with voting rights groups backing the move.

The vote came ahead of a big election year in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, when the city and swing state will be closely watched in the presidential primary April 2 and the general election Nov. 5.

"This election is extremely important. Wisconsin is a battleground state, Milwaukee is a battleground city. Having this particular location, right on the bus line, (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, this right here was a no-brainer," said Ald. Mark Chambers Jr., in whose district the voting site is located.

The Midtown Center site on the city's north side has been Milwaukee's most popular, but in October city officials said the location at 5740 W. Capitol Dr. might be in jeopardy because they were struggling to reach a rental agreement with the shopping center's new Atlanta-based owners, Laureate Capital LLC.

That announcement raised alarms among voting rights groups, and more than 500 people signed a petition urging city officials to find a way to keep the site at Midtown Center.

That didn't happen, but the new location in a onetime bank across West Capitol Drive from the former location has gained the groups' support.

Voting rights groups herald replacement for Midtown Center early voting site

After the council vote, the groups held a news conference in the City Hall Rotunda during which they spoke to the importance of the vote and the new location.

Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, or BLOC, expressed the importance of the vote: "Making sure that Black voters still have consistency in their voting plan and making sure there is an accessible location on the north side of Milwaukee."

She rallied supporters, saying the gathering and the council vote are what happens "when a community comes together ... when we fight for our rights as simple as voting."

The Rev. Greg Lewis, executive director of Souls to the Polls, called Lang "The Queen of the Ground Game."

He said the Midtown Center site was "vitally important" but that with the new, nearby site voting rights groups will be able to "drive more people to this location than ever before."

"We have a new, more potent location, accessible, that we can call our own," he said.

Calena Roberts of Power to the Polls said the groups will have to inform voters about the new site.

"We'll be spreading that word," she said.

Under the lease approved Tuesday, the city would pay $7,693 per month for more than 9,000 square feet of space at 6001 W. Capitol Dr. That would be a total of about $92,320 annually.

The 18-month lease would begin Jan. 1, 2024, and end June 30, 2025. Two 18-month lease renewals would also be possible under the contract.

Council approves other 2024 election, voting legislation

The council also backed legislation for additional election-related locations.

One item allows the city to lease the Baird Center at 400 W. Wisconsin Ave. downtown for use as the city's central count location, where absentee ballots are tallied, during the November 2024 general election. The city would lease the space from Nov. 4-6.

Another allows the city to rent American Serb Hall, 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave., for use as an early voting site for the November election. That space would be leased from Oct. 24 through Nov. 3.

A third resolution allows the city to provide early voting at eight locations for the spring elections:

  • Zeidler Municipal Building, 841 N. Broadway

  • Midtown Bank Building, 6001 W. Capitol Dr.

  • Zablocki Library, 3501 W. Oklahoma Ave.

  • Washington Park Library, 2121 N. Sherman Blvd.

  • Tippecanoe Library, 3912 S. Howell Ave.

  • Good Hope Library, 7715 W. Good Hope Rd.

  • Milwaukee Area Technical College, 700 W. State St.

  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

"Offering in-person absentee voting at more sites offers greater opportunities to voters throughout the city and may further racial equity and access to in-person voting opportunities," the legislation states.

A final resolution backed by the council directs city departments to work with the Milwaukee Election Commission to come up with ways to promote voter registration and participation. Department leaders must also create plans outlining steps they will take to accomplish those goals, with the Election Commission compiling a "comprehensive report."

Alison Dirr can be reached at Bill Glauber can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee council backs early voting site replacing Midtown Center