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More absentee ballots, curbside voting in August election in Madison

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WKOW file photo
Poll workers at Monona Terrace are protected by barriers, other safety precautions during August election.

MADISON (WKOW) -- Election Day is looking a little different at polling places in Wisconsin.

Many in Madison aren't voting at their typical location. The city clerk's office had to find new spaces during the pandemic where people can keep at a safe distance. That includes places like UW's University Research Park on the west side or businesses like Ian's Pizza downtown.

As expected, absentee voting has been a big focus for the August election.

When 27 News stopped by Monona Terrace around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, election officials said they had taken about 850 ballots there, but 780 of them were absentee, far more than people voting in person.

At University Research Park, poll workers collected about 600 ballots and 530 of them were absentee, as of about 5 p.m. Poll workers said it was pretty slow for in person voting most of the day, until around that time.

The city prepared for that after many voted early in April.

The clerk's office also looked at the spring election to determine where people had trouble voting and how to fix those issues this time around.

"We looked at the data from April to figure out whether there were areas of Madison where people weren't able to cast their ballot to the same extent as elsewhere," said city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. "What we found was that voting by mail does not work for everyone. So we used that to make our plan for safe voting for the fall election. And that's why our locations for in person absentee voting look very different than they have in the past. And after this election we will again look at the data and make adjustments."

Witzel-Behl says the August election is an opportunity to test the city's COVID voting plan and make any tweaks ahead of the presidential election in November.

Curbside voting has been another way the city is working to protect people from the COVID-19 risk. It's always been available, but after seeing a big interest in April, the city had people ready at each polling place.

Poll workers are also spending a lot of their down time between in person voters processing absentee ballots.

"Everything at the polls is set up very differently from what we would be used to. There are a lot of new safety procedures that poll workers need to keep track of, so we're asking our poll workers to do a lot more than we typically do," Witzel-Behl said.

As of 11 a.m., turnout was 14 percent and poll workers had processed about 40 percent of absentee ballots. Nearly 73,000 voters requested them. As of 4p.m., the clerk's office reported turnout at about 28 percent, with 81% absentees processed.

City officials are expecting 60 percent of people to vote in the August election, which is more than in the past.

Witzel-Behl said she felt more prepared to keep poll workers and voters safe this election than in April, when the city had to scramble to develop a safety plan and get enough hand sanitizer and masks for each polling place.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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