JANESVILLE—A year removed from the first election in Rock County during the pandemic, local election staff say ongoing vaccinations and well-established safety protocols have better positioned their offices for future elections.
Turnout in Rock County for the April 6 election was the lowest since 2017 and election officials say election fatigue, lack of high-profile races and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic could all be to blame.
In total, 20,196 ballots were cast in Rock County representing a 20.27% turnout among the county’s registered voter base of 99,626. That tally falls just above the total of 19.27% turnout in April of 2017 when 17,930 ballots were cast out of 93,058 registered voters.
A higher turnout in April of 2020, even in the early stages of the pandemic, was driven by presidential primary candidates being on the spring ballot. A total of 42.74% of registered county voters cast a ballot in April of 2020.
“It was a much lower turnout than expected,” said County Clerk Lisa Tollefson. “With contested city council and school board races, we thought there would be more. Maybe people weren’t engaged as much compared to last November’s general election and maybe there’s a little election burnout.”
In Beloit, Clerk-Treasurer Lori Stottler said a total of 2,681 ballots were cast, including 921 absentee ballots that were counted. Stottler’s office had originally issued over 1,400 absentee ballots leading up to Tuesday’s election.
“I think it ran smoothly,” Stottler said of city election operations.
Both Tollefson and Stottler said the experiences from April of 2020 and November of last year helped prepare poll workers and clerks staff around the county.
“Last spring we had the Wisconsin National Guard assisting us and we didn’t transmit election results on Election Night,” Tollefson said. “It was completely different scenario. I think we figured it out and we know what we need to do and we got it done.”
Stottler added, “It’s interesting how we can adapt. In our first pandemic election, we didn’t know what to expect and everyone was on edge. A year on, we have poll workers who are vaccinated and are confident and back working elections. It was a good feeling to have knowing we are doing everything we can to keep people safe.”