Many local voters are casting Nov. 3 ballots early
Local municipal clerks have been busy earlier than usual with election matters, but the work they’re doing now may well ease the rush when the presidential election day finally arrives on Nov. 3.
Local clerks are mailing out and processing hundres of absentee ballots now, as citizens cast their votes ahead of Election Day so they don’t have to brave crowded polling places during the coronavirus pandemic. While polls will be open as normal on Nov. 3 and precautions are being planned to keep voters safe from possible COVID- 19 spread, many residents are opting to vote early and be done with it.
In the village of Spencer, Clerk Paul Hensch said he has already mailed out around 200 absentee ballots as of Tuesday, and requests continue to arrive for more. With approximately 900 village residents normally casting votes in a presidential election year, that’s a significant percentage of people who are looking to avoid lines and crowds on Nov. 3.
“Usually we get between 10 and 15 (requests for absentee ballots),” Hensch said. “It is quite high.”
The period for voters to formally request absentee ballots began Sept. 16. Some citizens had already requested a ballot for Nov. 3 when they voted in one of the year’s earlier elections, so those were sent out weeks ago. Requests continue to come in, and Hensch said that’s good because he does not advise people to wait until the Oct. 29 deadline for requesting an absentee ballot. If they wait too long, Hensch said, there’s a risk of the ballot not getting to people earlier enough for them to fill it out and return it by Nov. 3.
“If you do request an absentee ballot in the mail, get it back to us as quickly as possible,” Hensch said. “You can even drop it off at the (village) office.”
Voters requesting an absentee ballot need to know that they must send their name, address and copy of a photo ID. They can simply take a photo with their cell phone of a driver’s license, utility bill or other form of ID and mail it in with their request.
When returning the ballot, the voter must sign the envelope in which they return it, and have someone witness their signature. That witness’ address must also be on the envelope.
Hensch said he inspects returned absentee ballot envelopes to make sure they are properly completed. If they are not, he will contact the voter to fix the error. Area voters also will have the opportunity to visit their clerk’s offices to cast an early in-person absentee ballot. It’s the same ballot they would receive if they requested one by mail, but an in-person vote assures the citizen their ballot won’t lose its way or arrive late due to mailing delays. In Greenwood, where city clerk Kayla Schar had mailed out 146 absentee ballots as of this week, citizens can begin voting at City Hall already on Oct. 12. They may come in anytime between 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Mondays, thru Fridays, until Oct. 30, to vote in-person. They do need to bring identification.
In-person absentee voting will begin on Oct. 20 in Spencer and Loyal. Hensch said Spencer residents need an appointment to vote, while Loyal residents can come in anytime during open office hours of 8 a.m.4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, through Oct. 30.
Schar said she would rather see people come in to vote than do the process through the mail. That saves the city some money, as it costs $1.10 to mail each ballot.
“We prefer they come in to the office to early vote rather than absentee vote,” Schar said.
In Loyal, city clerk Shannon Toufar said she has sent out 144 absentee ballots so far, and the requests keep coming.
“I think it’s going to be even more. This is just the start of it,” Toufar said.
Toufar said approximately 85 percent of the absentee ballots she has mailed out have already been completed and returned. Many citizens are foregoing the mailing process and bringing them right to the city office “A lot of people are bringing them back to City Hall for us because they’re afraid of the mail,” Toufar said. For those who do mail back a ballot, they can go on the internet to WisVote, a statewide voter registration system. When a citizen requests an absentee ballot, the local clerk inputs their name into the system. Then, when the ballot is returned, that information is also recorded. A voter can visit the site to see if their ballot has been received.
Both Toufar and Schar also said they check absentee ballot envelopes to make sure they are properly filled out, and attempt to contact the voter if mistakes are noted.
None of the absentee ballots are opened prior to election day. They are kept in secure storage, the clerks said, and then opened by election workers on Nov. 3 and fed into the counting systems.
There has been some statewide and nationwide speculation that results of the Nov. 3 presidential election may be delayed due to absentee voting rules and challenges over them in the court system. As long as nothing changes between now and then, the area clerks said the absentee ballot volume will not be that great that they won’t be able to get them counted on Nov. 3.
“We will have our count complete that night,” Hensch said.