Local officials brace for unprecedented April 7 election

Some polling places to be consolidated, shields installed to protect workers
Ozaukee Press staff

The April 7 presidential primary election will be like no other in modern times, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters are flooding municipal offices with requests for absentee ballots in numbers not seen before as residents abide by Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order.

In person voting is also more popular than ever as voters try to avoid crowds — and the potential of contracting the Covid-19 virus — on election day.

Municipalities, hampered by a lack of election workers, are in some cases consolidating polling places. Some are putting up Plexiglas or plastic shields to separate poll workers from the public and hamper the exchange of germs.

Residents are even being encouraged to bring their own pens to the polls.

And while polling places are usually crowded for a presidential primary, officials are expecting fewer people to show up on Tuesday as they shelter at home.

“It’s hard to predict how many people will come to the polls on election day,” Port Washington City Clerk Susan Westerbeke said. “This is going to be a different kind of election.”

That is due to the coronavirus, which has changed the way people are living their lives today.

Fearful of contracting the disease, municipal officials report record numbers of people seeking absentee ballots — they have until the end of the day Thursday, April 2, to request one.

Westerbeke said the city had issued 2,777 absentee ballots as of Wednesday morning, adding, “It’s been crazy. I don’t think we are going to have any trouble hitting 3,000 by the end of the week.”

The city has 7,527 registered voters, and Westerbeke noted that the city issued only 789 absentee ballots for the last presidential primary in 2016.

The sheer number of absentee ballots may delay election results, Westerbeke added.

“I don’t know if we can complete it that day or if it will go into the early morning hours,” she said. “It’s going to take a while.”

The Village of Grafton had issued 2,261 absentee ballots by noon Tuesday, Village Administrator Jesse Thyes said, noting that’s about 28% of the village’s registered voters.

“We have literally been receiving stacks of application forms or ballots being returned every day, Thyes said.

Belgium Village Clerk Julie Lesar said her office has issued 404 absentee ballots so far, the equivalent of about 28% of registered voters.

In the last presidential primary, she said, the village issued between 25 and 30 absentee ballots.

Early voting has been popular as well as voters try to avoid crowds.

In Belgium, early voters aren’t allowed in Village Hall. They drive up to the building and Lesar comes out with their ballot, pens and envelope, instructs them how to vote and then collects the completed ballots.

It’s been a popular process, she said. In Grafton, Thyes said early voting has been popular but the numbers have been dropping off this week. Wednesday was the last day to vote early.

The village has amended it early voting hours, closing it on Thursday and Friday so poll workers can get everything in order for Tuesday’s election, he said.

In Port, early voting continues Wednesday afternoon, Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, closing at 4 p.m., Westerbeke said.

At least half of the city’s poll workers have declined to work this election, she said, so the city is consolidating its polling places.

Supplementing the regular crew of poll workers will be some city workers and past poll workers who are currently working from home and can fill in shifts, Westerbeke said.

Voters in Wards 2 and 3 will vote at City Hall, as usual, but the remainder of the city voters will cast their ballots at Grand Avenue United Methodist Church.

There will be no voting at St. Matthew Church, where voters in Wards 1 and 7 usually cast their ballots.

Poll workers will be wearing gloves and masks will also be available for them, Westerbeke said. The Street Department is constructing safety shields for the polling tables to separate workers and the public, and poll workers will be wiping down equipment throughout the day.

Sanitizer will also be available for voters and poll workers.

Voters are encouraged to bring their own pens, if they desire, Westerbeke said. Black or blue pens are acceptable, she said, but not Sharpies, which will bleed through the ballots and cause them to be discarded and remade. Red pens are also not accepted.

Many of the same procedures will be in place in Grafton and Belgium, officials said. 

“Literally, a staff member goes in the booth after the voter leaves and wipes down everything,” Thyes said.

In Belgium, Lesar said they may limit the number of people allowed in the building at one time to lessen the chances of contracting Covid-19.

“People may have to wait in their cars,” she said. “We just want to keep everyone safe.”

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 7.

In addition to the presidential primary, the ballot will include a heated race for Wisconsin supreme court judge between Jill Karofsky and Daniel Kelly, a race for Court of Appeals judge between Lisa Neubauer and Paul Bugenhagen Jr., and a controversial victim’s rights referendum, popularly called Marsy’s Law.

There will be elections for Ozaukee County supervisors, the Mid Moraine Municipal Court judge and a host of municipal and school positions, and the Town of Port Washington is holding a referendum to determine if its treasurer should be appointed or elected.

In the City of Port Washington, incumbent aldermen Paul Neumyer, Dan Benning and Patrick Tearney are running unopposed for their seats representing the city’s 2nd, 4th and 6th districts.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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