RIVER FALLS — Local Wisconsin municipalities are being flooded with absentee ballots submissions and added election protocols as residents limit social exposure to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
In New Richmond alone, the city has seen a 300% increase in the number of absentee ballots since the February election, according to city clerk Michelle Scanlan.
Hudson and River Falls are also seeing an increase is absentee ballot submissions.
The Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary is April 7.
It's the first election cycle for Hudson's new city clerk, Becky Eggen.
“From what I’m gathering from staff and the amount that is coming in, I say yes (there is an increase in absentee voting)," Eggen said. "We are encouraging it.”
Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls city clerks agreed the election comes with added — and unforeseen — stressors as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wisconsin Election Commission are evolving new recommendations for a safe voting day.
“We’re just following the recommendations from federal and state health officials, encouraging the increase in hand sanitizers to be used for voters and polling staff," River Falls city clerk Amy White said. "We are going to recommend that voting equipment be cleaned hourly and we have purchased cleaning supplies that are compatible with our equipment and our surfaces,”
Voting workers have to be mindful of multiple surfaces such as tables, chairs, door handles and pens, White added.
Eggen said voting times will take longer with extra cleaning protocols in place for each station.
“The city of Hudson ordered 6,000 pens so everyone keeps their own pen or throws it away. They do not leave it at the polling place. We’re trying to get our hands on Clorox wipes which is next to impossible. We’re looking daily and you can’t get it,” Eggen said.
The election budget for Hudson is a major concern as the city now has extra charges including postage fees, printing costs and cleaning supply purchases.
“It’s a guestimate anyways,” Eggen added. “But this is going to totally push it.”
The original voting place at Faith Community Church at 777 Carmichael Road for Wards 3 and 4 and 11 and 12 have relocated to the fire hall on 222 Walnut St. Hudson.
“People are going to be outside waiting,” Eggen said. “There’s no way to avoid that with social distance. I’m hoping that voters are understanding of that because it’s not our fault.
The city also announced that absentee voting will be available by appointment only. Call the city clerk’s office at 715-386-4765 or email email@example.com. Voters are encouraged to request absentee ballots to vote by email with the city clerk or at myvote.wi.gov.
The City continues to prepare for the April 7 election. Voters can obtain an absentee ballot up until 5 p.m. April 2. To request an absentee ballot contact City Clerk Michelle Scanlan at 715-243-0403. The city is also working on a potential curbside voting process to help accommodate people wishing to vote in person.
Residents can request absentee ballots by mail, email or fax by 5 p.m. April 2. Download and complete an absentee ballot application at elections.wi.gov and mail to City of River Falls, Attention: City Clerk, 222 Lewis Street, River Falls, WI 54022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of a photo ID.
According to the River Falls website: "In-person absentee voting is available at the city clerk’s office on Monday, March 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Beginning Tuesday, March 24, voters must set up an appointment by calling 715-426-3523. Limited appointments are available. Appointments are available Monday through Friday, March 24 to April 3, every half hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., two people per appointment."
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