The April 7 election was one like city clerk Tracy Oldenburg has never seen.
Having worked her first election in 2008, this election posed challenges for her like she had yet to experience.
Not only did she have to track constant updates for the election that were out of her control because of state and federal rulings leading up to hours before polls opened, Oldenburg also required the help of other city departments to get an influx of absentee ballots sent out and had half as many poll workers available to her.
“Some elections can be more challenging than others, but this I’d say was the most challenging election ever in my career,” she said.
As of 1:30 p.m. April 8, the city had counted 8,966 ballots, just over half of the 16,485 registered voters. Of those votes cast, 7,392 were absentee ballots.
Results from election day won’t be available until at least Monday, April 13. A Supreme Court decision from the day before the election ruled that as long as absentee ballots were postmarked by April 7, they were eligible to be counted if they were delivered to clerks by 4 p.m. April 13.
Oldenburg said she and other city staff changed their processes as new information regarding changes to the election continued to flow in even the day before the election. Leading up to the election, federal judges and the Supreme Court weighed in on extending the deadlines for absentee ballots, whether voters could submit absentee ballots without a witness signature and address, and whether Gov. Tony Evers had the constitutional right to postpone the election by executive order.
“We just had to adjust as best we could,” she said. “Even the morning of the election, I was emailing some of the chiefs and staff members at about 3:30 a.m. to let them know some of the changes that were going on, and what to expect.”
Oldenburg said the feedback she and other poll workers heard was that people who came to vote in-person generally felt safe with all of the precautions in place.
Around 30 National Guard members made up many of the staff who were regularly cleaning and sanitizing throughout the day, she said. In addition to wiping down stations and other surfaces inside the polling places, Oldenburg said the Guard members were spread throughout the four locations, providing people with hand sanitizer as they walked in and cleaned the handles on doors that couldn’t be propped open.
“We were so grateful to them,” she said. “They were so wonderful.”
Oldenburg also said poll workers were instructed to have people sign the Badger Books with facial tissue wrapped around the stylus to reduce the spread of germs.
“That helped by eliminating people touching more surfaces than they needed to be,” she said.
Still, even with the National Guard in attendance to help, Fitchburg’s polling places were run with less volunteers than normal.
Oldenburg said for a larger election such as this one, the city would staff around 32 people per polling location, but of her 150 regular volunteers, half refrained from working.
That deficit was partly made up by 50 other city staff and volunteers who stepped up to work at the polls, Oldenburg said, with National Guard members filling the gap.
Only 20 of the regular election inspectors were also working that day, split up between the four polling places, Oldenburg added.
“We did have some new people that had training prior to this election and they still wanted to work, which was great, but they had never actually worked an election before,” she said. “I’m so grateful, but I feel bad for these people to have that be their first exposure (to an election.)”