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Wisconsin election underway with precautions at polls

Updated: April 08, 2020 04:17 AM

Wisconsin's spring election is underway after the state Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers' last-minute effort to delay voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Polls are open until 8 p.m. In Superior, voters who normally cast ballots at the Salvation Army have been moved to the government center instead.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine said at a news conference Tuesday morning that he's "not thrilled" that an election is being held amid a pandemic, but said he still wants people to vote. He said a majority of the voters who were expected to cast ballots have already done so by absentee ballots.

"We always want every citizen to participate in their democracy. I'm not thrilled that we're holding election day in person today, but that's the law and we have to hold it. Therefore, our leadership and our governance in the future of these communities is going to be decided today," said Paine.

This will be memorable election for Wisconsin voters due to the extra safety measures being done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 "It was kinda like walking into a desert scene, not many people at the time, I was kind of surprised," said Stefan Nowaq, a Superior resident.

"Normally it's a little bit busier than that in the morning but I think that's because they had early absentee voters and they were able to get a lot of voters through that way," said Liane Britton, the Superior chief inspector.

What would usually look like a busy voting day, was quieter than usual Tuesday morning. That's because many took the route of using absentee ballots to avoid going to the polls. Paine called it a "historically high number" of absentee ballots.

"I hope that this changes the landscape of elections. I know it definitely overwhelmed our clerk's office this year. If this is the way people are voting now, we'll be able to adapt to that in the future," said Paine.

Paine said this will help in preparing for the upcoming special congressional election. He said pushing the date back to June like Gov. Evers wanted would have been ideal but also challenging.

"One of our biggest concerns in local government up here in northern Wisconsin, if the terms of office were not extended, it was possible that we would have lost the entire county board and half of the city council as well as some school board seats and a number of town and village seats," said Paine.

Paine said in the press conference that they have received just under 4,300 absentee ballot requests from voters, and about 3,300 of them had been returned by Tuesday morning. 

"To have 3,300 ballots returned means we're well over 50 percent turnout most likely in this election. Now we can't predict turnout very well, but if it were to go over 6,000 I'd be surprised," said Paine.

Paine is encouraging people who still have absentee ballots to drop them off at the government center by the 8 p.m. deadline rather than try to mail them. Ballots sent by mail must be postmarked by Tuesday, but Paine reminded voters that mail may not necessarily be postmarked the same day it is dropped in a mailbox.

"That postmark is absolutely vital. If it's postmarked tomorrow, it cannot be counted by law," said Paine.

Paine also clarified some confusion with ID and absentee ballots. He said voters do not need to include ID with their absentee ballots but voters at the polls must have their ID on them.

The mayor asked people who are voting at the polls to not bring children and to try voting during the day, since traffic typically picks up after the regular work day.

Many Wisconsin residents are taking precautions during this election. Many are wearing masks and gloves and are choosing to do curbside voting.

Extra cleaning measures are happening at the polls too to ensure everyone's health and safety in the middle of this health crisis.

"We have been cleaning with sanitation wipes and I'm having some hand sanitizer as well to help people," said Britton.

The polls also offered disposable pens that people could take with them, so that people aren't using the same pens. They also put clear screens up between the desks to maintain a safe distance. Election officials also asked voters to not place their ID on tables.

"I think they're all doing well I saw them wearing masks and being protective by wearing gloves," said Dawn Priem, a Superior resident.

Election results will not be released until Monday, April 13, giving elections officials across Wisconsin more time to count absentee ballots.

Tuesday's ballot includes the presidential preference vote, a Supreme Court race, a statewide referendum on crime victim's rights, and numerous city, county, and school board races. A separate special election is scheduled for May 12 to fill Sean Duffy's former seat in Congress.

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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