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La Crosse area officials prepare polls for primary during coronavirus outbreak

La Crosse area officials prepare polls for primary during coronavirus outbreak

Wisconsin’s April 7 primary is on track to overlap with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in the state, and officials are finding ways to make sure Wisconsinites are able to cast their votes safely.

Last week, Gov. Tony Evers encouraged all who are able to vote absentee this year, after requests to limit social gatherings and exposure during the global pandemic.

Many other local officials have followed suit, notifying residents in their municipalities to look into absentee voting.

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from voting, but if you have symptoms, just request your ballot and we’ll mail it right to your house,” La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said.

Absentee ballots are given out to anyone in the state who requests it, no questions asked, and can either be filed in-person at your clerk’s office or by mail. All mail-in ballots need to be submitted by 5 p.m. April 2.

If voters choose to still vote in-person on election day, they are encouraged to register online before the March 18 deadline, so they won’t need to wait in longer lines to register same-day.

La Crosse County also announced it will provide all of its voting precincts with disinfectant wipes, gloves and enough individual pens for each voter to use on their ballots.

Many polling places are operated by older citizens, who have been said to be at a higher risk for contracting a serious case of virus.

Dankmeyer said many municipalities in La Crosse County are looking to staff younger volunteers to ensure any older election workers can stay home if they’d like to.

“In order to do the best we can, we’re going to staff the polls the best we can,” she said. “We don’t want to get anyone sick. We’re just going to do the best we can to get through election day.”

Louisiana, a state with 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases, began the process last week to move its primary date from April 3 to June 20 due to the virus. It’s the first state to do-so, but it’s a move the state also made in 2008 after Hurricane Katrina.

There is no word that Wisconsin officials are looking at similar measures.

It’s still unclear how the pandemic will impact voter turnout, but officials are keeping an open mind.

“I honestly don’t know what to expect. This is unlike anything that we’ve ever had. So there really is nothing to compare it with,” said Teri Lehrke, city of La Crosse clerk. “We are planning for a big turnout.”

“The election is still three weeks away. A lot can happen in those three weeks,” Dankmeyer said. “It’s just so unpredictable.”

And it’s clear the situation is unprecedented.

“I never expected myself in this position,” Dankmeyer said,” I’m always worried about ballots, not about people getting sick.”

La Crosse Area In-Person Absentee Voting Windows

  • March 16: Town of Onalaska
  • March 17: Town of Farmington, Village of Bangor,
  • March 23: City of La Crosse, city of Onalaska, town of Bangor, town of Barre, town of Hamilton, town of Burns, town of Holland, town of Washington, town of Shelby, town of Medary, town of Campbell, town of Greenfield, village of West Salem, village of Rockland, village of Holmen.

All Wisconsin absentee ballots must be requested by mail by 5 p.m. April 2 and mailed in time to be received by your clerk's office by 8 p.m. on April 7. Voting early in-person at your clerk's office can be done until April 3.

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