It was a vote unlike any other for Douglas County residents.
Masked or not, voters turned out to polls Tuesday, April 7 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each venue was outfitted with bottles of disinfectant, boxes of pens and clearly marked spots that kept election officials 6 feet away from voters.
Bill Eldred, who was voter No. 109 at the Amnicon Town Hall, said he was amazed at how well it went.
From getting his hands sprayed with disinfectant at the door to showing ID at a safe distance and casting his ballot, the Amnicon man said the process was quick and efficient. He even got to keep the pen.
Eldred gave town election workers a virtual pat on the back “for making voting as safe as can be, especially on such short notice,” he said.
Election officials in Douglas County said they saw steady traffic at the polls, despite a sizable increase in absentee ballots. The Village of Lake Nebagamon usually has 30 absentee ballots per election. By noon Tuesday, officials had received 264.
In the Village of Solon Springs, 100 absentee ballots had been turned in. Clerk Kathy Burger said she usually sends out five or six.
“I never send out that many, ever,” she said.
The day before the election was a roller coaster ride for clerks and election officials. First, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order to move the in-person voting date to June 9. The order was struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court after Republican legislators challenged the governor's authority.
The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled Monday that absentee ballots would only be counted if they were turned in or postmarked by April 7, blocking a lower court ruling that extended absentee voting to April 13.
Amnicon Clerk Gary Kane said it has been frustrating, but gave a nod to County Clerk Sue Sandvick for keeping everyone informed.
Town of Parkland Treasurer and election official Lisa Glaus said between 400 and 500 of the town’s 752 registered voters cast ballots each election. Although the town received 160 absentee ballots prior to Tuesday, Glaus said she wished the date had been moved.
“I still think we would have had a bigger turnout if we’d waited,” she said.
Some voters expressed concerns about voting in a pandemic. As of Tuesday, Douglas County had seven confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
“On one hand, I’m kind of paranoid about it,” said Eldred. “On the other hand, Douglas County has had so few cases.”
Laura Jaques, 19, cast her first vote from behind a mask at the Parkland Town Hall as her mother, Debbi Rominske, looked on. Rominske made their masks that morning so they could vote.
Larry Linden of Solon Springs said COVID-19 was on his mind, but didn’t keep him home.
“I haven’t missed a vote yet,” Linden said.
Some older poll workers chose to stay home for health reasons. Volunteers stepped in to fill the gaps.
In Lake Nebagamon, Village President Darrell Kyle sat behind one table while board member Jim Jonasen manned another. Paul Huber carried around a spray bottle of disinfectant to wipe down surfaces and hands.
First-time election official Carissa Skifscad responded to a Facebook call for help from Parkland Town Clerk Marianne Granquist. She took an online course to prepare, but said she learned a lot as the day went on.
Burger said she appreciated the election officials who came out to help voters in Solon Springs.
“I don’t know what I would have done if my co-workers had canceled,” she said.
Overall, the process went smoothly — so smoothly, in fact that Kane said Amnicon may use the layout in future elections.
The plexiglass shields in Solon Springs, made by members of the village board with donated lumber, will come in handy when voters return in May and November, Burger said.
This story was updated on April 7 at 5:24 p.m. with a video from photographer Jed Carlson. It was originally posted on April 7 at 4:39 p.m.