[Image via amazon]
Next Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary is still on as scheduled despite lawsuits, criticism and public concern about coronavirus – and the city of Neenah is making the best of it by channeling the spirit of TV’s DIY hero MacGyver and constructing plexiglass shields to protect pollworkers and voters alike. electionlineWeekly has the story:
At press time, Wisconsin is still planning on holding its April 7 primary. Although more than one million Badgers have requested an absentee ballot, people have still been showing up to vote early and will still be showing up at polling places on Tuesday.
Having voters and poll workers intermingling during a global pandemic has gotten folks’ creative juices flowing. In the City of Madison, the elections office is co-opting library book drops to use them for absentee ballot drops. In Tomahawk, a local business owner has made hand sanitizer for the town’s poll workers.
“Our Finance Department underwent a recent renovation and installed glass barriers for the customer area. I was walking by that and thought to myself if we built something like that to use in our election process to protect the worker and the voter that would be fairly easy to construct,” explained Kaufert. “I sketched something out on paper and gave it to Pat and 6 hours later had a prototype that we then made slight adjustments to size etc. and I asked him to construct 26 of them.”
The Pat that Kaufert is referring to is Pat Fischer, who along with Ron Fedenko, are the building maintenance men for the city who built the 26 shields in about six hours. It cost the city about $100 to make each shield which Kaufert attributed to the cost of the plexiglass.
Poll workers began using the shields with early voting that started this week and Kaufert said the response has been very positive.
“The comments have ALL been very positive and appreciative that we were innovative and cared about the safety and health of both,” Kaufert said. “Some workers that were considering not working the polls are now going to work because of the steps we have taken.”
Neenah has 14,000 registered voters and almost 7,000 have requested absentee ballots with one day to go. Kaufert said they are predicting about an 85% turnout due to a local school referendum.
The city has decided to close all six of its polling places and will instead use one, large vote center located in former Shopko location.
“This building is 90,000 square feet and will allow for all to be under one roof while still operating individually and practicing social distancing. All of our previous sites are small and cramped. This building will allow us to spread out,” Kaufert explained.
In addition to the plexiglass shields and social distancing, the city has also found that a nitrate glove will allow people to sign the e-poll book and they have secured enough for everyone that wants one to get one along with the idea of using a Q-tip with tinfoil wrap which Mayor Kaufert found on the Internet.
Kaufert has also appointed an election task force with the council president as chairman with a five person committee to make sure [they] have not missed anything in order to make the election work.
While Kaufert would have preferred to wait a month or so to hold the primary, the show must go on and he and his team feel they are ready.
“I would have preferred that the election be pushed back 4-6 weeks and strongly believe that was the responsible action,” Kaufert said. “But when the Legislature, elections commission and governor all said no I decided we would do the best we can to protect everyone that will be voting on April 7.”
In parting, he added what will no doubt become the 2020 tagline:
“Wash your hands, don’t touch your face and Social Distance. Stay safe and healthy!”
It is undeniable that the decision to proceed with next week’s is putting terrible strains on Wisconsin’s election community – while voters and pollworkers have the option to stay home, local election officials don’t have that choice. A tip of my #electiongeek cap to Mayor Kaufert and Neenah Clerk Patty A. Sturn for their creativity and dedication in the face of a terrible situation; it’s yet another indication of the lengths to which election officials will go to make the best of a difficult situation for their communities. Best wishes to everyone in Neenah and across Wisconsin … be well and stay tuned!