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Back to the Ballot Box: Voters Return to Polls a Year Into Pandemic

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Last April, COVID-19 sent election officials across the country into a tailspin.

Many states postponed their presidential primaries, but Wisconsin was not among them.

Some residents scrambled to file for absentee ballots. Others went to the polls like normal.

Now, a year later, voting in-person is a bit different than before the pandemic.

At the Pine Lake Community Building in Oneida County, voters sanitize their hands before picking up a ballot from a poll worker behind a plexiglass screen.

Precautions like this against COVID-19 are in place at polling places across the state.

They’re part of what’s drawing people like Mike Wiernasz back to the polls.

“We knew they had good protocols here and things were in place, so we feel a little safer [voting in-person], whereas last year that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Wiernasz voted absentee in the past several elections, but since he and his wife got vaccinated, he’s back to voting in-person.

Cindy Skinner, the Town of Pine Lake’s municipal clerk, says that’s the case with many people.

“Definitely we have a lot of people coming in who haven’t been in the polls for a year,” she said.

Last April, Skinner said between 700 to 800 people requested absentee ballots.

This year, she said the number of requests didn’t even reach 200.

Last April was the presidential primary, so that likely contributed to higher turnout.

Even so, across the entire state, more mail and absentee ballots were cast in April 2020 than any other Wisconsin election.

But some people, like Jack Schilleman, say they vote at the polls regardless.

“I believe in-person only,” Schilleman said. “There’s not much to vote for today, but what’s there is important.” 

Either way, poll workers in Oneida County say turnout seems to be at standard levels for a spring election.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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