EAU CLAIRE — The general election on Nov. 3 may appear far away, but local clerks are encouraging everyone to make a voting plan as soon as they can.
Local clerks, who oversee elections, said there will be a significant increase in requests for absentee voting, also referred to as mail-in voting, compared to previous general elections because of COVID-19.
“There’s certainly going to be a lot more absentee activity,” Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis said.
The dramatic increase in absentee ballot requests has required more work leading up to the election than in previous years, but clerks feel confident full voting will occur and all ballots will be counted.
“Our goal is anyone that wants to vote, we want to make sure they’re able to vote, and we do everything we can to make sure that happens,” Chippewa County Clerk Jaclyn Sadler said.
People already registered to vote absentee were scheduled to receive a ballot later this month. That may still happen, but the process to mail ballots could be delayed by a Thursday Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling.
The court ordered that no absentee ballots be mailed until it gives the go-ahead or makes any future ruling about who should be on the ballot. The order came in a lawsuit filed by Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins. He asked the state’s highest court to take up his challenge of a Wisconsin Elections Commission decision keeping him off the ballot. Rapper Kanye West, in a separate case, is also trying to get on the ballot after the commission rejected him.
The court, in a 4-3 decision split along ideological lines, said no ballots can be sent immediately. As of Thursday, nearly 1 million absentee ballots had been requested in Wisconsin.
It is uncertain what impact the court’s ruling will have on the general election, but here is information for people planning to vote over the next 53 days.
Who can vote?
Anyone who is at least 18 years old, is a U.S. citizen and has resided for at least 28 days in the area where that person intends to vote. Citizens must vote in the municipality where they reside.
How do I register to vote?
Know your name, address and date of birth. If you moved or changed your name since the last time you voted, you must register to vote again
For online registration, which must be done by Oct. 14, go to myvote.wi.gov/en-us/RegisterToVote to begin the process. After Oct. 14, registration can be done by calling your local clerk’s office or in-person on Election Day. To find your local clerk, go to myvote.wi.gov/en-US/MyMunicipalClerk.
Chippewa Falls City Clerk Bridget Givens encouraged people to include a phone number on their absentee application or voter registration application in case someone from her office needs to contact a voter to make a clarification or correction.
After I register, what do I need to vote?
A photo identification, in addition to your name, address and date of birth. Acceptable options include a driver’s license, state ID card, passport, veterans ID card and student ID along with proof of enrollment. Go to bringit.wi.gov to see a full list of acceptable photo IDs.
What voting options do I have?
Option 1: In-person at a polling location on Nov. 3 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To find your poll location, go to myvote.wi.gov/en-us/FindMyPollingPlace or call 1-866-868-3947.
Option 2: In-person absentee voting before Election Day. Starting Oct. 20, in-person absentee voting will take place, mainly during weekday business hours.
Option 3: Absentee voting, also called mail-in voting. An absentee ballot can be requested online at myvote.wi.gov/en-us/VoteAbsentee or by contacting your local clerk. An absentee request must be made by Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. An absentee ballot must be received by the municipal clerk by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Absentee ballots can be returned through the mail or at a ballot drop box if your municipality has one. The United States Postal Service recommends absentee ballots be mailed one week before Election Day to arrive in time. Absentee ballots can also be returned in-person at a municipal clerk’s office.
How many times can I vote?
Once. If you vote at a poll, you cannot vote again. If you vote in-person absentee, you cannot vote again. If you vote absentee, you cannot vote again.
What are important voting dates?
Oct. 14: Final day to register online or via mail to vote. After this date, voters must register in-person at their municipal clerk’s office or at a poll on Election Day.
Oct. 20: In-person absentee voting begins.
Oct. 29: Last day to request an absentee ballot.
Nov. 3: Election Day with in-person voting at polls until 8 p.m.; all absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m.
How do I vote absentee?
Once registered, voters can request an absentee ballot if they choose. A reason to vote absentee is not needed; any registered voter can do it. Absentee ballots require a witness signature to be accepted.
If voters don’t want to send their ballot back in the mail, they can deliver it in-person to the municipal clerk’s office, many of which also have ballot drop boxes.
Eau Claire has four ballot drop boxes where absentee ballots can be returned. The drop boxes are available until 7 a.m. on Election Day. One drop box is outside City Hall on Grand Avenue, and the other three are located at Festival Foods locations in the city: 2717 Birch St., 3007 Mall Dr. and 2615 N. Clairemont Ave.
Chippewa Falls has one ballot drop box outside City Hall, 30 W. Central St.
Menomonie City Clerk Cally Lauersdorf said Menomonie is working to obtain a drop box but does not currently have one. Voters can return their absentee ballots in-person to the city clerk’s office on the third floor of the Dunn County Government Center, 800 Wilson Ave.
If voting absentee, the best way to ensure one’s vote counts is to return a ballot as early as possible.
“If you’ve got your mind made up, send it back,” Givens said.
Where do I vote in-person absentee?
In-person absentee voting likely takes place at your local clerk’s office during weekday business hours. Contact your local clerk’s office with questions.
In-person absentee voting in Eau Claire will occur Oct. 20-24 and Oct.26-30 at the parking lot behind City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St. Drive-through voting and curbside voting will be available. Voting will be available Monday to Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sat., Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In Chippewa Falls, in-person absentee voting will occur Oct. 20-23 and Oct. 26-30 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at City Hall, 30 W. Central St. Curbside voting will be available.
In-person absentee voting in Menomonie will take place Oct. 20-23 and Oct. 26-30 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Dunn County Government Center, 800 Wilson Ave.. Curbside voting will be available.
Where do I vote on Election Day?
Eau Claire City Clerk Carrie Riepl expects to have 20 polling sites. Chippewa Falls will have four polling locations, and Menomonie will have four polling places. Nearly all other municipalities in the area will have one polling site.
To find your specific polling location, go to myvote.wi.gov/en-us/FindMyPollingPlace.
What health precautions will be taken for in-person voting?
Similar to election primaries in August and April, physical distancing measures will be taken for people waiting to vote. Materials such as plexiglass will separate voters and poll workers. Hand sanitizer will be available. Consistent cleaning and wiping of surfaces will occur. Local health departments will review polling locations and provide suggestions to ensure proper precautions take place.
Voters are recommended but not required to wear masks. Because of physical distancing, lines at the polls may seem longer than they actually are on Election Day. Polls close at 8 p.m. Someone waiting in line at 8 p.m. can vote.