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Election Day is finally near

After several long months of contentious campaigning, court rulings on ballot counting rules, and a flood of electronic and mailed political advertising, the decision day for American citizens is almost at hand. In fact, it’s already past for millions of citizens who have taken advantage of absentee and early voting otions to avoid long lines and possible COVID-19 exposure at polling places.

Election Day 2020 will be on Nov. 3, with all polls open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Area clerks say COVID-19 precautions will be in place, although crowding may not be as much of an issue as normal because so many people have already cast ballots. In Clark County, nearly 90 percent of the county’s registered voters are expected to vote by the time it’s said and done, either by absentee ballot, an early vote at their municipal office, or at the polls on Election Day. The presidential election race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, will, by far, be the largest driver of voter turnout. There are also Congressional and Wisconsin Assembly races on the ballot, as well as a short list of races for county elected positions.

In this area, voters in Wisconsin’s Congressional 7th District will be choosimg between incumbent Republican Tom Tiffany and Democratic challenger Tricia Zunker. Tiffany was elected to the seat over Zunker earlier this year after Sean Duffy resigned, and now Zunker is challenging him again for a full 2-year term.

In races for the state Assembly, in the 69th District, Republican Donna Rozar of Marshfield is facing Democrat Brian Giles of Marshfield for the seat now held by Bob Kulp. Whomever wins that race will represent the 69th District, which includes most of Clark County and parts of Marathon and Wood counties, for the next two years.

In the 68th District, which includes the city of Greenwood and western townships in Clark County, the candidates are incumbent Republican Jesse James of Eau Claire and Democrat Emily Berge of Eau Claire.

Clark County Clerk Christina Jensen said early and absentee voting activity has been “very high.” In the city of Neillsville and town of Pine Valley, she said close to half of registered voters have taken steps to vote early. This election and various ballot rules have been much in the news recently, but Jensen said the main driver is voter concern over the coronavirus.

“I think mainly COVID,” she said of the unusual amount of pre-Election Day voting.

More voters than usual requested absentee ballots from their local clerks. Many have already been returned, and some people are bringing them back in person to make sure they are not lost.

“With all the news media (reports), people are afraid to mail them back,” Jensen said.

Voters can still request an absentee ballot through Oct. 29, but they must allow time for mail delivery and then to return them to their voting place. That must be done by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 or they will not be counted.

In the city of Loyal, Clerk Shannon Toufar said she sent out 181 absentee ballots and 168 of them had been returned by Oct. 27. Those ballots -- and a handful cast early by citizens in the clerk’s office -- are stored in a fireproof vault and will stay there until poll workers count them on Nov. 3.

Loyal had about 535 voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, and Toufar said she expects Nov. 3 will see a steady stream of citizens even though many have already voted.

“It’s going to be a busy day because people still like to come in to vote,” she said.

Toufar said voters will be asked to social distance and wear face masks, and an extra poll worker will sanitize high-touch areas..

Similar measures will be taken at Greenwood City Hall, where Clerk Kayla Schar said signage will be in place to direct voter traffic to keep people a safe distance apart.

Schar said she sent out 183 absentee ballots, with about about 75 percent of those returned so far. Greenwood has 589 registered voters, so traffic will still be steady on Nov. 3. Schar also said citizens can come in to City Hall through Friday to vote early, and anyone with an outstanding absentee ballot can return it by Nov. 3.