Communities on pace to shatter records for absentee voting ahead of Tuesday’s midterm election

JANESVILLE, Wis. – The City of Janesville is on pace to have nearly five times as many absentee voters for Tuesday’s election than the midterms four years prior.

The city has sent out just shy of 10,000 absentee ballots, which is roughly 30 percent of its registered voters.

“On Monday we got 580 ballots in,” said Janesville Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek. “We have to get them checked in and make sure the envelopes are not deficient, meaning they’re not missing signatures or an address.”

Godek says the city has asked those requesting absentee ballots to share their phone number or an email address, so if there is an issue, it can be resolved quickly.

“That’s a quicker way to communicate than sending them a letter through the mail saying ‘your ballot is deficient’,” Godek said.

Wisconsin’s April election hung in uncertainty even up until just days before it was supposed to take place. Godek says preparation for Tuesday’s election started almost immediately following April’s completion.

“We had the understanding that the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic was going to change voting behaviors and habits and how people were going to vote,” he said.

Rock County has now sent out 21,000 absentee ballots, says county clerk Lisa Tollefson. The number is staggering, considering in 2016, 23,000 people total voted in the August election.

“I think passion (to vote) in November and August have both increased,” Tollefson said.

Yet Tollefson says voter turnout is still very unknown, because as of Sunday, just 13,000 of those absentee ballots have come back.

Tollefson and Godek both are asking voters not to mail absentee ballots as of Sunday, due to fears they won’t arrive before Tuesday at 8 p.m., the election’s deadline. Rather, they’re encouraging them to be turned in to city drop boxes or in person on Tuesday.

Despite the rise in absentee voting, many will still vote in person on Tuesday, with Janesville hosting four polling locations. To find your polling place, visit Myvote.wi.gov.

Both clerks say despite the uncertainty 2020 has provided, they still love what they do.

“I really think that voting is the keystone of our entire government system,” Godek said.  “It’s really the most important thing that my office does is ensuring that everyone who wants to vote, is eligible to vote and follows the rules can cast their ballot freely, fairly, and privately.”

“I always feel like I’m helping protect our voters ability to vote,” Tollefson said. “My passion is helping our community and making sure everybody gets that chance.”