City clerks say they have seen a significant uptick in the number of people requesting absentee ballots for Tuesday’s election.
Baraboo City Clerk Brenda Zeman said there were 434 absentee ballots cast in the August 2016 election, and even fewer two years later when 338 absentee ballots were cast in August 2018. As of Thursday afternoon, the city had received requests for slightly more than 1,900 absentee ballots and received 988.
Zeman said voters asked for absentee ballots through the entire year when they requested one for the April primary, which likely boosted the number, but the pandemic is also causing people to vote from home.
“They’re just not comfortable coming to the polls,” Zeman said.
Portage City Clerk Marie Moe said even without looking at the numbers, it was obvious the city had received more requests for absentee ballots than it had during the August 2018 election. There were 162 absentee voters in the 2018 partisan primary; as of 1:30 p.m. Thursday, 1,131 absentee ballots had been issued in the city.
“The state is encouraging absentee voting and certainly we’re following in that trend as well,” Moe said, referring to guidance issued by the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
As in Baraboo, Moe said a number of voters requested absentee ballots for the entire year. While the city is fully staffed with poll workers and has been able to process the increase in absentee ballots so far, Moe said she is unsure how many people Tuesday’s in-person election will bring into City Hall.
“It’s been an unprecedented year in everything,” Moe said. “All we know is absentees will continue to go up, that’s the only thing we can be assured of.”
Zeman said she is hopeful the election Tuesday goes smoothly. She anticipates a smaller turnout for a primary that usually doesn’t gain as much attention as general elections or contentious contests.
As COVID-19 numbers continue to plague Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers mandated required mask wearing in public spaces beginning Aug. 1. Though poll workers still have to check a voter’s photo identification, no one will be required to pull down the mask to be recognized. Guidance to clerks from the WEC notes that “you’ll be able to tell” and voters will “reasonably resemble the photo” on their IDs, Moe said.
Though the mandate includes all inside spaces where others are present and social distancing of 6 feet can’t be maintained, municipalities can not require voters to wear a mask to the polls. Zeman said the city does not plan to ask anyone to remove their mask for identification purposes and that the state indicates those who don’t reasonably resemble their photo IDs will be rare.
As for those concerned over the safety of absentee ballots being submitted and sent out through the United States Postal Service, Moe said they are handled carefully. Anyone concerned over the status of their ballot can visit myvote.wi.gov to check its location. It can be tracked after the request is submitted, approved by the municipal clerk’s office, put together by that office and returns are also recorded.
“An absentee ballot is treated as carefully as an in-person ballot,” Moe said.
As the deadline for absentee voting looms, both clerks urged the use of dropboxes at their municipal buildings to ensure votes are counted. Voters must have their ballots returned to the clerk, which can include dropping it at the polls, before 8 p.m. Tuesday. Residents can perform in-person absentee voting, or early voting, until 5 p.m. Friday at their municipal building. Portage City Hall has a dropbox. Baraboo City Hall has a night deposit slot where absentee ballots can be dropped off via the drive-thru at any time.
Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.
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