Ginny Dankmeyer summed up what’s about to happen beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday throughout the country as best a clerk could.
“There’s a healthy supply of the thumb things. There’s a healthy supply of letter openers, and probably a healthy supply of Band-Aids for the paper cuts that’ll happen when opening those envelopes,” the La Crosse County Clerk said. “They’re ready, they’ve been trained.
“Can I say this is the Super Bowl for municipal clerks and county clerks, because this is what we’ve been preparing for.”
Dankmeyer, the county clerk since 2011, and on Tuesday’s ballot — running unopposed — answered all kinds of voting questions Monday on La Crosse Talk PM.
The big question: When can we expect results?
“I think a majority of polling locations and reporting units will be in, probably before midnight-1 a.m.,” Dankmeyer said. “There’s going to be a couple that are going to take a little bit longer, because of the amount of absentees they have. We’re hoping within the wee-hours of Wednesday, we’ll have all the results posted.”
The absentee ballots are a different animal, because volunteers need the “thumb things,” use letter openers and feed them to the machine, as opposed to the voter doing that.
Dankmeyer said about 42,000 absentee ballots have been returned, which is about 95% of those that had been mailed out.
“Just with the absentee ballots returned, we’re looking at about a 54-55% voter turnout,” Dankmeyer said. “Over half the registered voters already have cast a ballot, if we’re just looking at the absentee ballots returned at this point.”
With all the hype over voting this year, some might think there will be a huge jump in turnout. Dankmeyer doesn’t think so. She said about 64,000 cast a ballot in 2016 with around an 85% turnout. She thinks it’ll be close to that again this year — maybe a tad more.
“We’re going to be looking at another 85% turnout of registered voters, and if we’re already at 55%, there’s not a heck of a lot of registered voters in the county left to go to the polls,” Dankmeyer said.
As for lines, there will probably be one when polls open at 7 a.m., “as there always is,” she said. Then, your typical times — noon and 5 p.m. But, again, with a lot of the votes already turned in, there may not be lines much of anywhere in the county.
In 2016, La Crosse County — which went to Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 51.6% to 42.0% — was one of the last to report results in the state. Dankmeyer didn’t know if it would be one of the last this time, but she anticipates it’ll be pretty late — or fairly early, depending on how you want to judge the middle of the night. But they’ve made some adjustments to anticipate the absentee counting.
“There was a little delay in 2016,” she said. ‘There will probably be a delay, for maybe a couple of the polling places. But, like I said, a lot of the larger ones purchased a second tabulator. So they have a crew on election day that’s going to be dedicated just to processing those absentees on a separate machine.
“So, we’re hoping that those will get processed throughout the day and they won’t have to do it at 8 p.m. when the polls close.”
There has been some talk about poll observers. La Crosse County Democratic Party Chair Mike Smuksta was also on La Crosse Talk PM, and said they plan to have observers and expected the Republican Party to do the same.
“You just sit there and you observe, just to make sure that nothing’s going on that would seem like voter intimidation or challenges to voters,” Smuksta said. “I don’t expect that to happen. But it’s just part of the voter protection plan the state put together.”
None of that is abnormal, Dankmeyer said.
“In most elections, there are observers,” she said. “People probably pay no attention to it. Maybe because there’s been more pointed out about them this year, you may be able to see them more. But, yeah, we expect there to be observers at the polls, like there is for most elections.”
Observers with guns, though?
“We are not having armed election observers,” Dankmeyer said. “They’re not allowed at the polls.”
It is a pandemic, and some people may have tested positive for COVID-19 — La Crosse County added another 27 cases Monday — and others may have symptoms. There is a curbside option for those who need it — whether it’s virus related or for those who have a disability.
“If you just don’t want to go into the polling locations, curbside voting is not an option for you,” Dankmeyer added. “You have to have the symptoms, be quarantined or test positive to use the curbside voting option.”
If that’s you, she said different locations have different ways of notifying poll workers — from a phone number to call listed outside to simply honking the horn.
When it comes to getting your absentee ballot to count, Dankmeyer went over a couple of scenarios. For those who still have their ballot in hand, it is still possible to put it in the ballot drop box at your polling location, but maybe don’t.
“At some point, throughout the day, they’re going to shut off the drop boxes,” Dankmeyer said. “So, in order to make sure your ballot is getting to the polling location, I highly advise you just to take it to that polling location. Just hand it to one of the poll workers there, so you can make sure it’s going to get processed.”
For those who mailed their ballots just a few days ago and worried they might not make it to the polling location, Dankmeyer said, “I know the local post offices are going to try to keep those ballots local, versus sending them up to the Cities to be processed.”
But, if the ballot doesn’t make it to those locations by 8 p.m. — even if you know it isn’t going to get there — Dankmeyer said there really isn’t anything more to do. It’s too late to make your vote count.
The courts ruled a week ago, Wisconsin would no longer accept ballots received after 8 p.m. Nov. 3 but postmarked by election day, as initially thought.
Thirty states require ballots to be received by election day. Minnesota is going through this fight still, despite directions on absentee ballots telling voters they need to be postmarked “on or before” Nov. 3.