Absentee ballots skyrocket as voters, poll workers try to stay safe in unprecedented election

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor

NORTHERN WISCONSIN – Compared to the previous two spring primaries, Lincoln County saw a massive increase in absentee ballots for the April 7 election. Overall turnout was down from 2016, but up from 2018, according to data from the County Clerk’s office.

Voters and poll workers alike wore personal protective equipment (PPE) and tried to maintain six feet of social distancing in an effort to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 as the virus spreads across the state and country.

Lincoln County election statistics

Last Tuesday, 33% of eligible Lincoln County voters cast ballots. Of the 7,377 ballots counted, 3,837 (about 52%) were absentee ballots.

Lincoln County saw a significant drop in voters from the 2016 spring primary, which also included a Presidential Preference vote. That year, 46.99% of eligible voters cast a total of 10,544 ballots. In 2018, when the only statewide race was for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat, 5,902 ballots from 26.3% of eligible voters were counted.

When compared to absentee ballot numbers from 2016 and 2018, 2020’s count is drastically higher. 627 absentee ballots were counted in Lincoln County in 2016 (roughly 0.06%), and just 395 were tallied in 2018 (approximately 0.07%).

City of Tomahawk

On Tuesday morning in the City of Tomahawk, a line of voters, some wearing gloves and homemade masks, stretched from the front door of City Hall onto the sidewalk along North 2nd Street as people stood on marks spread out every six feet to follow social distancing guidelines.

The City announced on April 1 that it would be moving the polling location at SARA Park to City Hall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clerk-Treasurer Amanda Bartz said there was never a point in the day when a voter wasn’t in line at City Hall. The total number of ballots cast in Tomahawk, including both in-person and absentee, came to 760, she noted.

“The number of in-person voters was very low, but we had 573 absentee ballots requested (and) 500 returned by election night,” Bartz stated. Approximately two-thirds of the city’s ballots tallied were absentee.

95 absentee ballots were counted in Tomahawk in 2016. In 2018, only 35 were tallied.

Bartz said a Plexiglas barrier was installed on the table used for voting, and enough cleaning supplies were on hand to ensure surfaces were sanitized between each voter.

“We also had enough hand sanitizer to spray each voter’s hands prior to voting. Each voter was given a new pen that they kept,” Bartz noted. “Rather than having the voter sign the poll books, we had labels for them to sign and then we placed them in the poll book to avoid voters touching the same paper.”

Bartz added that she wanted to thank Scentability for providing hand sanitizer, and voters for their patience.

“We tried to make things as safe as possible,” she said.

Town of Bradley

The Town of Bradley saw a 41% turnout, with 815 voters casting ballots. 447 of those, roughly 55%, were absentee ballots.

Much like virtually every other Lincoln County municipality, Bradley saw absentee ballots numbers skyrocket last week relative to past elections. The township counted 92 absentee ballots in 2016, and 33 in 2018.

At the Town of Bradley town hall, a line of cars snaked its way across the parking lot onto West Mohawk Drive as voters waited to pull into the town garage to vote from within their vehicles.

“The poll workers were provided with gloves, masks and cleaning products to keep themselves and their work area clean,” Clerk Kari Kiser said. “The entire process seemed to flow smoothly and everyone felt safe. Voters did have to wait in lines at times, but everyone was very understanding and patient.”

Town of Knox

Similar to other locations throughout Wisconsin, the state provided the Town of Knox polling site at the Brantwood Community Center with personal protective equipment for voters and election staff to use. Poll workers used green tape on the floor to mark out six feet of space between voters as they waited to cast their ballots and posted notices reminding voters to practice social distancing.

The Price County township tallied 120 ballots, totaling about 57% of registered voters. 57 (47.5%) of the ballots were absentee.

“We only have 211 registered voters in Knox, so that was a pretty good percentage,” poll worker Carol Jarvensivu said.

Full coverage of election results online, in next week’s edition

Due to the Monday evening release of the April 7 election results, full coverage will be featured in next week’s issue of the Tomahawk Leader. Full coverage will be available online at www.tomahawkleader.com.

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