BELOIT — Beloit residents faced long lines to vote in Tuesday’s spring primary, and results for the election won’t be released until April 13—one of the many peculiarities faced by those heading to the polls in Wisconsin during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All Election Day ballots were cast in Beloit via drive-through format, with a steady stream of vehicles snaking around downtown and leading to City Hall, the city’s only polling place due to a lack of poll workers amid the COVID-19 disruption. Wait times in Beloit ranged from a half hour to over an hour throughout the day, and Beloit police set up barricades to handle the high volume of vehicles.
The department said there were no reported traffic crashes or traffic citations due to the congestion caused by the drive-through voting line.
In Rock County, over 9,600 voters cast ballots at the polls across the county on Tuesday. Over 32,000 ballots were sent or voted in-peson prior to Election Day, said Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson.
In Beloit, 1,268 in-person ballots were cast on Tuesday and the city received a record 3,560 absentee ballots by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, data released Beloit Clerk-Treasurer Lori Stottler shows.
“There’s no way we could have predicted turnout this year,” Stottler said. “I am extremely proud of all the volunteers and city staff who helped make this election run smoothly. We couldn’t have done it without them. The voters were respectful and appreciative of what we were doing.”
A total of 4,599 absentee ballots were issued by Stottler’s office, with ballots still yet-to-be-received requiring a postmark of Tuesday, April 7 to be counted.
Voting totals were down sharply from April of 2016, the last presidential primary, with the 2016 spring election seeing 8,981 total ballots cast, including 2,585 absentee ballots, according to 2016 election records provided by the Rock County Clerk’s Office.
The Wisconsin Election Commission said Tuesday that 2,409 Wisconsin National Guard members assisted polling places across the state, including 31 volunteers helping out in Rock County.
Tollefson she felt Tuesday went “smooth and steady,” given the unique circumstances of pandemic voting.
“We had more in-person voters than I think we expected,” Tollefson said. “The one thing I keep hearing from clerks around the county is how much praise and thanks that poll workers and clerk’s staff are getting for the extra steps they are taking to keep the public safe, but to also ensure the election was carried out.”
Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, Tollefson said she expected the 2020 primary to be historic for the anticipated turnout, not the circumstances that followed the fallout from COVID-19.
“Running an election during a pandemic is definitely an interesting undertaking," Tollefson said. "When predicting this year would be historic, this was not what I was thinking.”
Those in Beloit without access to a vehicle or unable to drive were still able to cast in-person ballots after clerk’s staff worked to accommodate those requests, according to Beloit Strategic Communications Director Sarah Millard.
Clerk’s office staff and volunteers had to instruct some voters who attempted to park their vehicles and cut the line of cars to wait in line, but no voters were turned away, Millard said.
In the Town of Beloit, voters encountered shorter lines as all township residents cast in-person ballots at Town of Beloit Fire Department Fire Station Two. Poll workers had personal protective equipment and Town of Beloit Department of Public Works staff constructed custom plastic shields for volunteers to work behind.
Town of Beloit Clerk Karry Devault reported that a total of 1,828 ballots were cast on Tuesday, with her office also issuing over 1,200 absentee ballots prior to Election Day.
“I think it went pretty well,” Devault said. “Given the circumstances, it went smoothly and we received a lot of thanks. That was phenomenal.”
Results won’t be released until April 13 due to a federal appeals court order related in-part to the high volume of absentee ballots, which were originally going to be accepted until April 13.
But following a last minute ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday night, the court struck down the April 13 deadline and required all absentee ballots be postmarked by Tuesday.
On the ballot included the presidential preference selection, Wisconsin Supreme Court, Beloit City Council, School District of Beloit Board of Education and Rock County Board of Supervisors.