Twenty-two-year-old Patricia McKnight, an intern in the Ideas Lab at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wasn’t on assignment when she went to Milwaukee High School on Tuesday morning. Like many other Winsconsins, she was just trying to vote — in the middle of a pandemic.
But then she saw Jennifer Taff and her sign. So she asked her about it.
“I’m disgusted,” Taff told her. “I requested an absentee ballot almost three weeks ago and never got it. I have a father dying from lung disease and I have to risk my life and his just to exercise my right to vote.” She had been in line for almost two hours.
“I pulled out my iPhone 11 Pro Max and snapped a few photos, switching to portrait mode to make sure I got one that emphasized her, the sign and the massive line winding into the distance,” McKnight writes. She spent about an hour taking photos and talking with people, most wearing masks. The elderly people waiting on line were tired and frustrated, she says. Many said they had requested absentee ballots that hadn’t arrived by Election Day. A US Supreme Court ruling on Monday meant that their only option was to vote in person, violating the state’s stay-at-home order.
I asked her whether she knew it was going to be a spectacular photo or if it caught her by surprise. “It definitely caught me by surprise afterwards,” she told me. “I mean, I knew that it was fundamentally correct by what our professors taught us, the rule of the thirds and all that. But I didn’t think it would storm the Internet the way it did!”
Storm the Internet it did. Featured on the front page of the newspaper, it went viral, featured on Rachel Maddow, who called McKnight the “intrepid intern,” All In With Chris Hayes, the ABC World News and many newspapers around the country and around the world, not to mention Twitter and an Instagram shout-out from former First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I’m just glad I got to show people what it was like to vote in Wisconsin,” McKnight says. Washington High School, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee, was one of only five polling places open on Tuesday. Normally there are 180 in the city, but due to worker shortages and other issues related to the pandemic, polling places were very limited causing long lines and an average wait time of two hours. New York Times writer Reid Epstein noted, “Tuesday’s mess of an election in Wisconsin is the culmination of a decade of efforts by state Republicans to make voting harder, redraw legislative boundaries and dilute the power of voters in the state’s urban centers.”
Meanwhile, Patricia and her mother returned to Washington High School later that evening and — after waiting an hour and half — cast their votes, too.
Somebody hire this multimedia journalist. She graduates UW-Milwaukee in May.