If Wisconsin’s spring election taught citizens anything about voting during the pandemic, it’s this: vote absentee.
Nearly six dozen people contracted COVID-19 after voting in person or working at the polls on April 7. The Department of Health Services put the final number at 71.
That’s not so bad, you say? Keep in mind that Wisconsin, with its population of 5.8 million, had confirmed only 2,578 cases as of election day. Yet of the 1.55 million people who voted in the spring election, 400,000 took the risk of voting in person. That’s right. Nearly 75% people voted absentee. Now imagine if they hadn’t. How many more people would have gotten sick and spread the new coronavirus to more people?
COVID-19 was still new in April. People hadn't let down their guard, and both Minnesota and Wisconsin had stay-put orders in place.
Today, Wisconsin has had well over 45,000 cases of COVID-19 and is approaching 900 deaths. Numbers are climbing as we head toward Aug. 11 (the primary), so the risks of voting in person are as great -- or greater -- than ever.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Ball State University researchers determined that counties with more in-person voters per voting location had significantly higher rates of COVID-19 transmission after the spring election than counties with lower voter density did. On average, an additional 100 people per polling station doubled a county’s COVID-19 positive case test rate two to three weeks following the election. Put another way, counties with higher absentee voting had lower rates of COVID-19.
Many residents, fortunately, are taking action to secure their voting rights and preserve their health. As of July 17, Wisconsin Elections Commission has mailed out more than 700,000 ballots for the primary.
Minnesotans, too, appear to be listening. Absentee ballots come available in the land of 10,000 lakes in mid-May. In 2016, the secretary of state’s office received 88 such requests that first week, while the number was 173 for the midterm election. This year, some 36,880 voters requested absentee ballots that first week.
Cast a ballot for personal health -- vote absentee.