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Poll places busy on Election Day in rural Columbia County

November 8, 2018

WYOCENA — On Election Day in rural Columbia County, this is what democracy looks like.

It looks like steady lines of voters, even at times when municipal clerks and volunteers anticipated enough of a slowdown to start depositing absentee ballots into the tabulator.

It looks like a lack of vacant seats at tables set aside for same-day voter registration.

It looks like the town of Leeds attaining a 12 percent turnout of its registered voters in the first hour the polls were open.

And, it looks like people are finding their ways to the voters’ rolls, and to the polling places, in a variety of new ways.

Consider, for instance, 19-year-old Mariah Freese and her 21-year-old brother, Jaxon Freese.

When the pair showed up around midday at their polling place in the Wyocena Town Hall, everybody there not only knew their names, they also knew that this was their first time voting.

Both registered to vote online. Mariah took the day off from classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to cast a ballot in her home precinct.

“I just saw a lot of stuff about the election on Facebook,” Jaxon said. “So I thought I might as well register to vote.”

In the town of Leeds, Town Clerk Linda Foley had a brand-new experience — granting an emailed absentee ballot request.

It was a complicated process. The voter was emailed a ballot and of the form that is printed on the outside of envelopes containing absentee ballots. The voter had to print out both, make sure the absentee voters’ form was completely filled out (including the signature of a witness), and follow instructions for how each form should be placed in an envelope and submitted.

Even then, Foley said, poll workers had to re-mark the printed-out ballot because the tabulating machine wouldn’t accept it.

With steady lines of voters, and those who wished to register or update their registration, poll workers didn’t have much downtime even in the early afternoons when polling places customarily are less busy.

“We’ve had long lines all day,” said poll worked Ruth Southworth at the polling place in the Wyocena Village Hall. “I think it’s even busier than the presidential election, believe it or not.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., there was enough of a break in the action for poll workers to get a fast-food lunch from Portage. In other years, they might buy a chili meal from the Friends of the Wyocena Library, but the traditional Election Day chili feed, to raise money for the library, was replaced this year with a bake sale.

As Ruth Schultz ate her lunch, she reflected on almost a decade of steady volunteering at the village of Wyocena’s elections. This is her last one. She’s moving soon to West Bend.

One of the ways she volunteers is to go with Southworth to the Columbia Health Care Center, just a few blocks from the village hall, to help residents cast absentee ballots.

“They thank us every year for coming there and helping them,” Schultz said. “They are part of the community, too.”

At the Pardeeville Village Hall polling place, it’s long been a tradition for the poll workers to have a betting pool, in which the one who guesses the turnout most closely wins the “prize” of bragging rights until the next election.

“We usually do the poll. We always do,” said poll worker Judy Skaar. “And this year we didn’t. We were too busy.”

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