HUDSON -- The continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in absentee voting makes this year’s general election a little different.

Patience will be important this year, Hudson Clerk Becky Eggen said, from possible lines at polling places to waiting for results. She said voters should understand that things won’t be instantaneous.

The city of Hudson had sent out more than 5,000 absentee ballots, as of Friday, Oct. 23.

“Half of our registered voters have received absentee ballots,” Eggen said.

The city of River Falls had mailed out more than 3,000 ballots and had a three-day total of more than 450 in-person absentee voting as of Friday, Oct. 23.

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New Richmond had seen more than 3,000 early absentee voters, both through ballots and in-person, Clerk Michelle Scanlan said. The city had received about 75% of the absentee ballots that it sent out, she said Tuesday morning.

The deadline to request absentee ballots is Thursday, Oct. 29.

Voters should get those ballots returned early, Eggen said.

“Don’t wait for Election Day,” she said.

Hudson City Hall has a dropbox for city residents that staff check once a day on weekends, and multiple times a day during the week. New Richmond has three drop boxes for residents to return their absentee ballots.

Clerks are still expecting to have unofficial results on election night, though they don’t know when exactly that will be. All results reported on election nights, every year, are preliminary.

Scanlan expects to have New Richmond results to St. Croix County by 9 p.m. Election Day.

Polling places in Hudson will be reporting at the same time as usual, but the counting of absentee ballots is what might take longer.

“I’m hoping by midnight, but I can’t promise anything,” Eggen said.

Staffing for central counting has been increased, so Eggen said it might go smoother than they expect.

Absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, after the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to pick up a trial court ruling that would have extended the deadline.

When absentee ballots are returned, either through the mail or into a dropbox, they are collected and marked into the state election system with the date returned. Then they are sorted by wards and locked until Election Day.

Absentee ballots are not opened and counted until Election Day in Wisconsin. On that day, the ballots are opened and processed, just as an in-person ballot would be.

Voting options

Those who did not request an absentee ballot still have options.

In-person absentee voting is open at municipal offices through Friday, Oct. 30.

“We have been really focusing on the early, in-person voting hours with the hope that we can really spread out when people are coming in so that we don’t have crowds of people together waiting,” Scanlan said.

Anyone can come in on those days, River Falls Clerk Amy White said, even if they still need to register.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “They’re not going to have to stand in line on Election Day and they get to cast their ballot when they have time.”

And of course, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

White encouraged people to register ahead of time with their municipality. In-person voters need to remember their Wisconsin or federal ID as well, Scanlan said.

Hudson polling places likely won’t be flooded with lines, Eggen said, based on the number of absentee ballots. The polling places will be implementing social distancing and other safety practices, though.

The number of people allowed in the room for voting at one time will be restricted, Scanlan said, which means voters could find themselves waiting outdoors.

“There is nowhere else to wait,” she said.

New Richmond has curbside, drive-through voting open as well for those who have accessibility issues, as well as anyone who is in quarantine or experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms.

Residents should know that municipal clerks work to make sure that elections are fair, safe and secure, White said.

“That’s our priority, that’s what we stand behind,” she said.