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Wisconsin Voters Turn Out To Cast Ballots During COVID-19 Surge

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On this Election Day, we're going to be visiting polling places around the country. We're going to do it all morning. Roughly 100 million people have already voted early or by mail, but many millions more will show up at polling places this morning in towns like Superior, Wis., which is where we find reporter Danielle Kaeding of Wisconsin Public Radio. Danielle, good morning.

DANIELLE KAEDING, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: Thanks for doing it. Sounds like you are out in the world. Explain where you are and what you're seeing.

KAEDING: Yeah. It's just before sunrise here in Superior, and already about six people have lined up outside the government center here in Superior to cast their ballot before they head to work or head home for the day.

MARTIN: So I mean, Wisconsin happens to be a hot spot right now in terms of coronavirus cases. Is that expected to dampen turnout on this actual Election Day for in-person voting?

KAEDING: It could, and part of that might be because around 1.9 million absentee ballots have already been returned due to fears over COVID-19, and that's more than 90% of those that had been sent out. And that means that, even though the polls haven't opened yet, that 63% of people who voted in the 2016 presidential election have already cast their vote. But that still could mean that another million people could show up at the polls, based on those 2016 numbers, or even more if it's drawing more people out to cast their vote in this election.

MARTIN: And have you talked to voters who plan to turn out in person? What are they telling you?

KAEDING: Yeah. I was able to talk with Max Dombrowski (ph), who's standing in line here this morning, and, you know, he's concerned about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he wanted to show up early just because he was worried a little bit about waiting in long lines, possibly after work. And that was something that we saw back in the spring election here in Wisconsin in cities like Milwaukee, where they had gone from 180 polling places down to five, and then that created lines where people were waiting for hours to cast their ballot. And so things have changed a little bit since then. You know, they have more polling locations this time around, and they're preparing and taking precautions to be safe this time.

MARTIN: So I want to ask about this recent decision by the Supreme Court, which said that mail-in ballots that arrive in the days after November 3, after today, in Wisconsin, that those ballots will not be counted. What's been the effect of that? Are voters worried about their vote not being counted?

KAEDING: Well, I asked Max about that, and he was worried about it. He doesn't think that people who have sent in their ballots by mail won't be counted, but he just wanted to have that extra satisfaction of feeding the ballot into the machine to know that it actually got there and would be counted. And, you know, the Wisconsin Elections Commission head has said that it's going to take a long time to count these votes, but if it takes until tomorrow morning or overnight, that that should be expected and that people shouldn't panic about that.

MARTIN: Wisconsin's primary this spring was the first big pandemic election. What lessons did officials learn from that?

KAEDING: Yeah. I mean, one - No. 1, probably more polling locations. Like I said, we saw really long lines in cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay, and so now they've opened up more polling places. You know, there's a lot of concern right now about people who have COVID maybe heading to the election, and I spoke with Bayfield County clerk Scott Fibert yesterday, who talked about the precautions that they're taking if voters head to the polls today.

MARTIN: All right. Danielle Kaeding of Wisconsin Public Radio, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

KAEDING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.