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Clerks 'bombarded' with requests for absentee ballots amid COVID-19 pandemic

(Source: MGN)
(Source: MGN)
Published: Mar. 13, 2020 at 3:46 PM CDT
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The message to avoid large crowds and social distance is reaching voters.

With Wisconsin's April 7th election inching closer, the request for absentee ballots is suddenly surging.

Local clerks tell us they've been bombarded with requests the last few days.

From Green Bay and De Pere to Manitowoc to Appleton and Fond du Lac, clerks tell us they are receiving a lot more requests for absentee ballots.

A spokesperson from the Wisconsin Elections Commission told us Friday, the number of ballot requests jumped about 5,000 in one day.

As of March 13th, nearly 110,000 people had requested ballots to vote early and avoid going to the polls on election day.

For comparison, 249,000 absentee ballots were requested in the last presidential spring election in 2016.

Action 2 News talked to clerks in several cities in Northeast Wisconsin, who say most of the requests are coming in online through My Vote Wisconsin, so they can't say specifically if the sudden surge in requests is because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they say they've definitely noticed a change since the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization.

"Honestly, this is a good thing, because what it does is enables our election to move forward and people can still vote," says Celestine Jeffreys, Green Bay Mayor's Chief of Staff.

The WEC is also making some immediate changes, allowing clerks to mail absentee ballots to nursing homes instead of going there in-person.

They also have permission to move polling locations.

Most clerks we talked to said they don't think they'll need to do that, but with developments changing by the hour, it is possible.

"We're preparing for the eventuality that we will need to relocate some wards, and we're also preparing for the eventuality that we will need to call in some people to work in those wards," says Jeffreys.

Clerks are also making sure people who do show up on election day have access to hand sanitizer or a place to wash their hands.

"We have received guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commissions as far as protocol for keeping the polling places clean and sanitized, so we are prepared for that," says De Pere City Clerk Carey Danen.

Fond du Lac, which has confirmed COVID-19 cases, says it will be allowing people to use their own ball point pens or pencils to mark ballots, but you'll need to check what clerks are allowing where you vote.

Every community has different rules based on the kinds of ballots and machines they use.

You can vote absentee by requesting a ballot be mailed to you, or for about two weeks leading up to the election, you can vote early at the clerk's office.

That in-person, early voting is usually a popular option for voters, but this year, clerks have no idea what to expect.

"Typically, yes, for an election like this, it would be very busy. We're not really sure with the current situation if the numbers will go down or if they might even increase because people might think that it's at least a less crowded option than election day," says Danen.

If you want to vote early, here's what you need to know.

Clerks and state elections officials say the easiest way is to go online to myvote.wi.gov and request an absentee ballot.

If you don't have an ID on file, you have to submit one.

It's as simple as taking a picture of your license, passport or valid ID on your phone and uploading it to the site.

It takes only a few minutes.

If you are not registered, you need to register online through the same website by March 18th in order to vote early in the April election.

If you're already registered, you can request an absentee ballot until April 2nd, but keep in mind, it has to be filled out and received at the clerks office by election night.

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