Unseasonably warm autumn weather and a contentious race for president brought a huge number of people to local voting polls, but as the sun set on Election Day, there were few reports of problems in the Watertown area.
Other than long lines and one broken vote-counting machine — which was quickly replaced — clerks from around southern Dodge and northern Jefferson County were pleased with how the day went.
Some were almost ecstatic that weeks of planning were paying off in well-organized voting, despite near record turnout in some areas.
Reporter Steve Sharp, with the help of reporters Diane Graff and Pam Chickering Wilson, drove around the greater Watertown area to gather stories about how the voting unfolded. Here is what they found:
Town of Milford
At 5:15 p.m., Town of Milford Clerk Trisha Miller reported that the day had gone smoothly.
She said, “If anything, we had fun.”
It started out in a hectic way.
“Things were crazy at 7 a.m.. There were 40 people waiting outside to get in,” Miller said.
She said enthusiasm for this election was so great in Milford that she registered 40 new voters just Tuesday. There were 747 registered voters in Milford before the election. A total of 535 had voted as of 5:15 p.m., with only 35 of those being absentee.
City of Lake Mills
At 4:30 p.m., City of Lake Mills Clerk Misty Quest was knocking on wood a lot. She and her election staff had the almost-perfect Election Day and she wanted to keep it that way.
“It’s nobody’s wish to have a presidential election like this in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, “but here we are and it’s gone well.”
Quest said that by 4:30 p.m., 1,100 people had voted in person and almost all of the 2,479 absentee ballots had been counted. As of Monday afternoon, there were 4,176 registered voters in Lake Mills.
Town of Aztalan
Town Clerk Megan Dunneisen was another clerk who said her day had gone smoothly.
At 4:15 p.m., she reported that 756 people had voted both in person and absentee.
Dunneisen said the line to enter the polling place extended a socially distanced 40 feet from the door of the polling place to the parking lot through 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Town of Farmington
Pickup trucks were plentiful outside the town hall Tuesday afternoon as the sun was beginning to set.
The staff was so busy at 3:40 p.m. that it was difficult to interview them.
Total votes as of that time were 613 in person of 1,037 registered voters. The absentee total was unavailable due to the press of business.
Village of Sullivan
Wendy Wilkinson of Sullivan said she didn’t care who would do it, but whomever becomes president must restart the economy in the post-COVID-19 world.
She said she had just voted for Donald Trump, because in her opinion the president had a good economy in place before the coronavirus struck.
Wilkinson said she was willing to risk going out in the COVID-19 environment to vote in person so she would have the assurance her vote would be counted.
“Too many ballots get lost,” she said. “This is an important election.”
Sullivan Village Clerk-Treasurer Heather Rupnow said the village had 436 registered voters as of Tuesday. She said 20-25 of them registered on Election Day.
“That’s a lot for us,” Rupnow said, noting that 50-75 additional people registered in recent days so they could participate in the 2020 election.
By 3:10 p.m., according to Rupnow, 251 people had voted, with 190 of them doing so in person.
“It’s been very nice,” she said, as she handed one man an “I voted” sticker. “Nobody has been angry or upset.”
Town of Concord
One of the longer voting lines of the day could be seen at 2 p.m. at the Concord Community Center.
Town Clerk Brian Neumann said that, from the start of the day through approximately the lunch hour, the line of voters went out the door of the center, where voters had already formed two lines in a former school gymnasium.
Absentee voters constituted 650 by 2 p.m. In-person voters numbered 353. A total of 1,450 (existing and new) voters were registered through early to mid afternoon.
Neumann said that since the August election, the town registered 100 new voters and an additional 25 registered Tuesday afternoon. He said he could see no demographic trend among new registrants.
Neumann said some were fairly long established residents and others had only moved into the community recently. Neumann said crowds of voters exhibited considerable patience throughout the day.
“I can’t thank voters enough. There was a one-hour wait at our peak and people were all very cordial,” he said.
Town of Ixonia
Ixonia Town Clerk Nancy Zastrow and her election crew had things moving along so efficiently at 1:30 p.m. that she was able to step outside into the bright autumn sun and warm breeze to talk about the election.
Zastrow said that at 1:30 p.m., the town had received 2,188 absentee and 500 in-person ballots.
The parking lots and voter drive-thru areas were busy places.
“We only had one hiccup Tuesday and that was with an absentee voting machine, but the county came through and got me a new one,” she said.
Zastrow, a veteran clerk who was working the big 2008 general election as clerk in Milton, said the 2020 election has been even bigger.
She said Tuesday’s great weather helped, because it kept a lot of people’s spirits up on a stressful day.
Zastrow lamented the fact that there has been, what ahe described as, much voter disinformation. She said many voters have been confused. She said one of her biggest tasks in this election has been voter education.
“There has been mistrust of the US Postal Service and people have had concerns about the voting equipment,” Zastrow said. “I’ve had so many phone calls from people concerned that their vote won’t be counted. I know what we do here is (of high quality), but I don’t know the magic word to reassure people that their vote will count. The mistrust in this election is the worst part.”
Town of Watertown
Married couple Jim and Carrie Borak traveled to the Watertown Town Hall Tuesday just to cancel each other’s presidential votes out.
Jim, who is said he is voting for Biden, said they chose to vote in person, so their votes would not somehow be lost.
“We want to make sure our votes are counted,” Jim said.
When asked how they were getting along on Election Day, given the fact they were supporting different candidates for president, they both laughed, saying they got their arguments about Trump and Biden over with several weeks ago.
Inside the town hall, clerk Jim Wendt said he and his staff saw 700 absentee and early ballots come in. As of 12:45 p.m., there were 1,044 total votes.
The Town of Watertown had 1,500 registered voters coming into this election.
Wendt said he had also seen many new voters register this year. He described the day’s voting as steady and rarely rushed.
City of Watertown
It was difficult to find parking outside the Watertown City Hall Tuesday at 11:15 a.m.
Narrow hallways inside were clogged with people registering to vote. Many young people stood in line to register.
Because of the crowd and tight space, there was little opportunity for social distancing.
City of Waterloo
The line of city voters was across the street before the polls opened at 7 a.m., according to Clerk/Treasurer Mo Hansen. But the clerk did not know how many people were in line, due to social distancing guidelines.
The line of voters subsided during the morning hours Tuesday, but there was still a moderate flow of people in the municipal building casting ballots through noon. The longest a voter had to wait to mark a ballot was 15 minutes, he added.
“It has been going great,” Hansen said. “We have had a tremendous outpouring of citizens stepping up to serve as election officials,” he said.
With the moderate flow of voters, the election officials were able to process about 400 of the 1,156 absentee ballots cast in the city by noon. Hansen was hopeful more absentee ballots would be processed in the afternoon.
Hansen said the turnout has been what he expected. Most of the voters have worn masks, and if they do not have a mask, the emergency medical staff donated a large box of masks that are available in the hallway.
Long-time poll work Mary Janzen wore a mask and a face shield as she sat behind Plexiglas addressing voters. While the clerk said things were going smoothly, Janzen noted the tabulator jammed up this morning. It required turning it off and starting it up again for it to work, she said.
“We have had a fair number of in-person voters and those who have to register,” Janzen said. “We have had a nice flow and everyone is patient and all is good.”
Town of Portland
The voting line was out the door and snaked across the street for those who wanted to cast a ballot in the Town of Portland Tuesday.
Voters abided by social distancing and only about four were allowed inside the tiny town hall at a time. Once voters got to the door, they were met by a poll worker with a spray bottle of hand sanitizer.
Laura Schultz, who waited in line prior to noon, said she stood in the sunshine for about 40 minutes before casting her ballot. She said the wait was what she had expected.
Clerk Nancy Thompson said it had been busy at the town hall since about 6:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the polls opened.
“This is a short line,” Thompson said at noon. “Everyone who has come to vote has worn a mask.”
As of noon, 211 of the 718 registered voters had cast ballots. But many people registered at the poll, Thompson said. The state estimates there are 800 voters in the town, she added.
With the steady flow, poll workers had not had an opportunity to count the 170 absentee ballots cast, Thompson said. She was still hopeful her election duties would be done by 9 p.m., an hour after the polls close.
Town of Emmet
Even busier than Juneau and Clyman Wednesday morning was the Emmet Town Hall.
Makenzie Drays was greeting people in Stage 1 of Emmett’s voting process. This means she was welcoming people in the town’s garage.
There, unregistered voters registered and were directed down a short hallway into the town hall voting area.
It was Drays’ first time serving as a poll worker and she said her day was going well, with people in good spirits.
Town clerk Deb Carlson said the day got off to a busy start and later turned into a steady flow of voters. She anticipated a heavy lunch crowd and then another rush in the late afternoon, when people got out of work.
“But it’s nothing we haven’t been able to handle,” she said.
Carlson said that in the 2016 General Election, there were almost no absentee voters in Emmet. She said that 400 voters cast absentee ballots in 2020.
She called 2016 a big election for the town, with a total of 1,000 people voting.
On Tuesday at 10:50 a.m., in addition to the 400 absentee voters, 200 people had already cast their ballots — with nine hours of voting remaining.
Village of Clyman
Clyman Village Hall was seeing a steady stream of voters at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday.
One of them was 18-year-old Hailey Wesolowski, who was voting for the first time. She said she wanted to vote in person, because the event was “special” and a significant one in her life.
Poll workers Diane West and Colleen Bruhn said 66 people had voted in person as of 10:25 a.m.
West said she had been working at the Clyman polling place for the past decade and 2020 had been the busiest she has seen.
“We’re a little disappointed though because the voters don’t get their ‘I voted’ stickers. They are recommending we don’t give them out due to COVID.”
City of Juneau
At Juneau’s community center, it was neighbor helping neighbor, as Barb Zank took her elderly neighbor to the polling place.
Zenk said her friend, who was using a walker, wanted to vote in person “in the traditional way.”
Zenk said she was happy and relieved Election Day was finally here. She said she eventually turned off most news and avoided campaign ads due to overload.
She said it was her second trip to the polling place Tuesday. She had voted earlier in the day, when she had been voter No. 116.
At 9:50 a.m., the poll at Juneau saw its 200th voter.
Chief Inspector Crystal Mitchell said, at that point, the flow of voters had been steady since 7 a.m. Other election personnel said the line of voters stretched outside when the polls opened.
“With the general election, we knew it would be busy and it has been,” Mitchell said. “And now, it’s turned to being steady.”
In the Village of Johnson Creek, voting had been moved from the village hall, which is used during the lower-turnout elections, to the new Community Center.
Already as the polls opened Tuesday, the lines of residents waiting to vote stretched out well into the parking lot, said poll worker Sally Albertz.
The lines had shrunk to a steady stream by mid-morning, when poll workers were able to process a few voters at a time without a big backup.
With the double side doors of the community center flung wide to assist in ventilation and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the community center was hopping even once the morning crowd of voters had passed through.
In one corner, poll workers Nicole Sikora and Debra Brown steadily processed absentee votes turned in earlier, which would be inserted in the voting machines as the day went on.
In another, election helper Lenny Saindon stood by with a squirt bottle of disinfectant, waiting to clean the individual voting booths in between voters.
Among the poll workers checking in voters was Nora Wichman, who just turned 18 and took the day off to assist at the polls.
“I wanted to get involved, to help out in whatever way I could,” said Wichman, a Jefferson High School senior who lives in the Johnson Creek area.