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One Year Later: Voting in a pandemic

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 8:37 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - This past year has affected the way we live our lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including how we vote in elections like on Tuesday.

City officials say last April was hectic, on top of not knowing if the spring primary would go as planned, they had to quickly come up with a process that would help keep everyone safe at the polls.

“Last February it was a normal election process,” says Eau Claire City Clerk Carrie Riepl.

Coming off of last year’s February primary, city officials like Eau Claire County Clerk Sue McDonald, were preparing for a busy April primary.

“We knew going into the year that it was going to be a busy year,” McDonald says.

Then things changed, thanks to COVID-19.

“It was just a mad scramble because it was literally ten times the normal amount of information coming in,” McDonald says.

“It was definitely hectic but everybody stepped up, you know, county, health department, fire department, incident command all the other town clerks and city clerks to develop that plan so that everybody could be safe,” Riepl says.

Along with in person voting precautions such as socially distanced lines and plexiglass dividers, Riepl says they had to deal with a sharp increase in absentee ballot requests.

A trend she continues to see.

“We definitely have more absentee ballots for this April election compared to 2019, but I think that’s because a lot of voters have now used that process for the first time and realized how easy and secure it is,” she says.

Riepl says some changes made to the voting process, may stick around even after the pandemic.

“For the smaller elections we’ve developed a process where we don’t need as many poll workers, we’ve combined some things,” she says. “So for those smaller elections we’ll probably continue those processes.”

Now, five elections in during the pandemic, McDonald says things are finally settling down.

“Things are kind of feeling like getting back to normal with the additional precautions that they’re taking at the polling places.”

McDonald doesn’t know exactly how voting will look in the next election cycle, however she is looking forward to some extra time to prepare for it.

She says she is looking forward to hitting the restart ahead of the state’s next election in 2022.

McDonald and Riepl both said they are expecting a big turnout for next year’s gubernatorial election.

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