The Eau Claire City Hall parking lot has turned into a drive-thru voting operation, allowing city residents to cast ballots for the April 7 presidential primary and local elections.

Traffic cones and open-air tents were placed on Monday in the lot, and city elections staff put procedures in place intended to minimize contact with voters during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our priority is to protect the safety of our employees while providing continuation of essential services,” City Manager Dale Peters said Tuesday morning.

He emphasized that the city is recommending voters request an absentee ballot online through the state’s website. The secondary option would be to call City Hall to request assistance with voting. But for those needing to register or vote in-person, the city began the drive-thru service Tuesday. The drive-thru is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

There are four tents set up — three for voting and one where people can register and vote — behind City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St., with traffic cones guiding cars through the parking lot.

As a car stops by one of the tents, voters will only be asked to roll their vehicle’s window down a few inches.

City elections staff will then give instructions, check IDs and registration status, and hand a clipboard with a ballot and pen to people in those vehicles.

“The voters will remain in their cars the whole time,” city clerk Carrie Riepl said.

After filling out a ballot, the voter then drives forward to a second station to hand the materials back to another city employee. The ballot will then be put in an envelope to be counted at their regular polling place on Election Day.

The clipboard, pen and anything else touched by the voter will then be wiped down with disinfectant before they’re ready to be used again.

“Everything will be sanitized between voters,” Riepl said.

In its Monday update to local clerks, the Wisconsin Elections Commission noted that curbside or drive-thru voting is allowed and being used by many municipalities. Clerks must have measures in place to ensure voter registration, check IDs, allow observers to watch procedures and maintain ballot security when establishing drive-thru voting, the commission stated.

In Eau Claire, in-person absentee voting began last week during regular business hours on weekdays in the elections office at City Hall. The amount of visitors coming to City Hall recently has been pretty low and most of those people were there to vote, Riepl noted.

Following health guidelines for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, there were added precautions in place for those who cast a ballot last week in the office. Green marks were placed on the floor to show voters how far apart they should stand while waiting in line. Hand sanitizer was available for voters to use, and employees frequently swabbed surfaces and supplies that people touched with Clorox wipes.

With the drive-thru now open, visitors will no longer be allowed in the city’s elections office.

But elections officials are still advising people to request ballots by mail instead to cut the potential for the coronavirus spreading. The deadline to request an absentee ballot, which can be done through the MyVote website, is April 2. Voters must submit a copy of their driver’s license or other valid photo ID to cast an absentee ballot through the mail.

With the rising demand for absentee voting leading up to the spring election, the commission placed a large order for more ballot mailing envelopes for local clerks that are running low. Those are expected to arrive in counties this week, according to the commission.

Online voter registration had ended March 18, but a federal court decided to extend that until March 30. The state elections commission stated Monday afternoon that it was still working on restoring the ability to register online through the MyVote website given the extended deadline. Until that is fixed, voters who need to register need to visit their municipal clerk or in Eau Claire’s case, go to the drive-thru.

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