Election 2020: Voters show strong appearance at local polls
Voting in person has a different look but remains just as important for most people in the area.
Less of the traditional catching up with the neighbors, an absence of children, and an abundance of sanitizer and masks were observed during the morning of the General Election at Wadena area polls.
Polls at Verndale, Wadena and Bluffton saw a line of people ready to cast their ballot at the opening of the doors. Around 8 a.m. Verndale had a number of people standing at the ready to vote, all with masks and socially distanced. At the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center in Wadena, where there are four precincts, each had voters carefully filling in circles across the entire gym area. Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower said because of COVID-19 precautions, they opened up the entire gym for use and about doubled the number of booths. There were even spots at tables for folks to vote in the wide open if they didn't care to wait for a booth. An extra election judge was even brought in for each precinct to aid in the added duties, which included a regular wipe down of surfaces used by voters. Early in the morning, there were times each booth was filled.
Outside the wellness center out of four people willing to share their voting preferences, three said they voted for Trump, while one was voting for Biden. Most voters didn't wish to respond to questions and of those that did answer questions, most of those did not wish to share their name.
One brave soul, Susan Tepley, said she was a strong believer in voting and preferred voting in person.
"This is my tradition, I like to come in and vote," Tepley said. She found the voting process to be smooth and quick.
One Biden voter said he was casting his ballot for the Democrat largely because of the handling of the coronavirus.
But Tepley said Trump was the best candidate for the job.
"I think he's the best out of all of them," Tepley said. "I'm a Republican so I voted Republican."
She felt confident in all of her votes and like many voters was able to leave the polls with a smile and comfort in having a part in the process.
"Every election is important," Tepley said. "I vote no matter what."
While it had a different look to it, a resounding number of voters said coming out to vote in person was still very important to them.
At the Wadena County Courthouse, Wadena Township and Leaf River Township still shared the downstairs conference room. They too had a booming turnout despite a huge increase in absentee voting. Wadena Township clerk Trisha Kraemer said that they had 216 absentee votes out of a total of 556 registered voters at the start of the day, or about 39% of registered voters. By 9:30 they had 86 show up at the polls with a steady stream still coming. Kraemer said they tend to have a strong turnout in their township and have had added interest in the last couple elections.
One thing Lisa Schmidt, an election judge for Leaf River Township noticed was the absence of children. Most years children tag along with a parent or two. Of course, the reward for tagging along is the coveted "I voted" sticker. But with the virus tightening its grip on the area, it appeared most adults were limiting the number of people they brought along and in most cases tried to get in and out as quickly as they could.
Perhaps another reason people were being less chatty was that it's harder to recognize one another with a mask covering most faces, as election judge Mary Jorgenson noticed.
Across the board, precincts were feeling like turnout would be great. Wadena County Election Coordinator Joy Weyer was impressed with just how many had showed up to vote before election day. Traffic at the county's polling place outside the Auditor's office was a steady flow in the days before the election day. Weyer said the county sent out 3,050 absentee ballots to those that requested them. As of Monday, Nov. 2, they had accepted 2,397 of those back. While 417 were yet to come back, 44 were rejected for various reasons, and 180 were marked spoiled or lost. As a whole, there were about 8,200 registered voters, so about 37% of registered voters requested to vote absentee.
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With polls closing at 8 p.m., many precincts felt they could be wrapped up with their results in by 10:30 p.m. The county then has to input data and handle any issues that should arise as the night drags on.
The Pioneer Journal plans to publish results as soon as they are in from the county and abroad. Wadena County Auditor Heather Olson felt strongly that the county would have results that were quite complete by election night, though they will remain unofficial until all votes are accounted for. The county has been able to begin processing those absentee ballots already, so that should not put them far behind schedule.