Town of Verona clerk John Wright had his work cut out for him with the election earlier this month.
Not only did he process close to 700 absentee ballots leading up to election day – which was more than the number of absentee ballots in the 2016 presidential primary and presidential general elections combined – but he also had to innovate a way to conduct the in-person election on April 7 – all while keeping people at least six feet apart.
“I just kept describing what we were going through here in the office as a marathon instead of a footrace,” Wright said. “It was six days a week.”
Of the town’s 1,442 registered voters, a total of 829 voted, or 57.5%. Of those who voted, more than 76.3% opted to vote absentee, either through mailed ballots or in-person at the town hall. On election day, even with two National Guard members helping out, Wright was operating with a smaller staff than usual.
Of the nearly 700 absentee ballots Wright processed, 632 of them were counted. And regardless of how a person chose to vote absentee in the Town of Verona, it took at least 20 minutes for Wright to process each ballot.
The process was different for mailed ballots and those done in-person – mailed ballots took a little less than 20 minutes for Wright to individually process, while sanitizing all of the surfaces a person touched as they came into the town hall took a similar amount of time.
Part of what made processing absentee ballots that were mailed time-consuming was the amount of paperwork that had to be done, including entering information on a person’s state ID to get it placed into the state election database before a ballot could be sent out, Wright said.
“It was just a lot of data entry,” he said. “I would say (for) 85% of the requests, I did not have a photo ID on file.”
With absentee voting being encouraged by state election officials and Gov. Tony Evers, who publicly stated that clerks should send out ballots by mail to all registered voters, Wright said he and other town staff were “planning for the worst” when it came to a rapidly changing election.
IfWright would have had to send a ballot to all 1,442 registered voters, he would have had to send out the same number of ballots in one week’s time that it took him three weeks to do.
“That would have been so difficult to achieve,” he said.
Wright said in-person absentee voting prior to the election saw a high percentage of residents who ranged from their 60’s into their 90’s, because getting a ballot through the state’s election portal was more difficult for them.
“That was the demographic that was coming in most frequently,” he said. “They’re the highest-at-risk population, so obviously that adds considerably to the time to be able to clean the surfaces.”
For the in-person election held on April 7, Wright said he needed to innovate a way to allow two poll workers to see a person’s photo ID and have the voter sign for a ballot.
Wright and the patrolman ended up taking an extra piece of roofing from the town hall, which was constructed only three years ago, and used it, along with the seat of a swivel chair, to swing around the ballot and the photo ID from the voter to the poll workers.
“That way it reduced the number of surfaces anyone would touch, and maintain that six feet of distance,” Wright said.