There were mixed reactions among poll workers and voters Tuesday over whether Wisconsin’s in-person election should have proceeded in the midst of a pandemic.
Emily and Mark Boldt were two of many donning face coverings for voting at the Civic Center, Emily holding a personal container of disinfectant wipes and a pen she brought from home. Mark expressed indifference over the election being held Tuesday. Emily said she would have preferred to cast an absentee ballot, but had waited too long to request one before the deadline. COVID-19 remains a concern for both of them, but Mark was “not concerned enough not to vote,” he said.
They weren’t the only people with their noses and mouths covered Tuesday.
Deanna Staszewski wore a paper respirator mask to vote, but it wasn’t her own health she was concerned about. Responsible for her father-in-law’s care, she wanted to do her best to keep COVID-19 out of her home.
An avid voter, Staszewski said she would have made sure to cast a ballot either way, but that hosting an in-person election during the coronavirus pandemic is irresponsible.
“I think with what’s going on right now, it’s a shame we’ve put so many people at risk and that we can’t postpone it,” Staszewski said. “It’s silly. We’re closing down so many different things, postponing everything else, but we’re not postponing this.”
An executive order by Gov. Tony Evers issued Monday postponing the election until June 9 was successfully blocked by legislators through a petition to the state Supreme Court. Legislative leaders argued the move was unconstitutional and that the decision to hold an in-person election falls to the Legislature.
Looking around the gymnasium Tuesday, Staszewski pointed out that the majority of poll workers appeared to be older or elderly and said “it’s sad” they’re being put at risk.
Paul Kelly has asthma and suffered through more than one round with pneumonia in his lifetime. He said if it weren’t for the election, he would not have been outside at all.
“I’m quarantined at home, except for today,” Kelly said. “I think they should have postponed it, but they didn’t so here I am.”
His wife, Johanna, has been making masks for nurse friends and donating them to nursing homes. He wore one of her creations Tuesday as he cast a ballot while also running as a registered write-in for a seat on the Baraboo Police and Fire Commission.
“It’s just a little bit extra protection,” he said.
Emily Moll felt similarly about needing to show up to the election. She requested an absentee ballot Friday, but it didn’t arrive in the mail, so she decided to cast a ballot in person.
“I didn’t want to subject myself to people right now,” Moll said from behind a cloth mask.
But she didn’t want to risk not being able to vote in light of Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that absentee ballots are required to have an April 7 postmark to be counted for the election.
“I don’t think it was a good idea, but we have to do what we have to do,” Moll said of the election. “This was our only option.”
Inspector Tom Pollard said the day seemed slower than the primary in February, which would generally have lower turnout than the Tuesday ballot asking voters to choose a presidential candidate, school board members, city and county representatives, a state Supreme Court seat and a referendum question aiming to amend the state constitution.
“It’s been very smooth,” Pollard said around 1 p.m. “And it’s been fairly steady.”
Poll worker Judy Spencer, who wore a mask as she sat behind the plexiglass divider, echoed the sentiment. She said from her spot at the registration table that people seemed to flow into the gymnasium as single voters or a few at a time. City Clerk Brenda Zeman said mid-morning voters assembled enough for a line to be organized to the doors, but there had not been much of a need for social distancing procedures as people entered a fairly empty gymnasium. At one point, a man donned a full face respirator as he checked in to get a ballot.
Sharon and Bob Madland said they were glad for the help of inspectors willing to bring ballots to their truck while they stayed parked outside. The couple had returned from a trip to Arizona on Friday. They have been in a voluntary quarantine since then and plan to continue for 14 days, but they wanted to make sure to cast a ballot.
“We wanted to vote, so we figured this would be a good way to do it,” Sharon said.
Bob Madland said upon their return, they had to endure confusion as state officials argued over whether the election would take place Tuesday.
Sharon said she felt it was unsafe to hold the in-person election during a pandemic.
“I don’t think they should have done it,” she said. “I think it should have been postponed just for everybody’s safety.”
While no one knows what June could bring, Bob agreed that the election should have been delayed, gambling on better conditions in two months.
A poll worker for about five years, Bonnie Sauey said she didn’t have concerns for her health as she administered a poll book. Given the city poll worker shortage, she didn’t want to leave them even more short-handed. Sauey said people seemed overall grateful for the work to keep the election as safe as possible during the pandemic.
“People appreciate all the steps that were taken to make this as sterile an environment as we can,” Sauey said. “Everybody’s been very nice, very understanding and they come with a smile on their face.”
Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.
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