Voting During COVID-19

Morgan Engels, Contributor

With the Nov. 3 election just days away and COVID-19 case numbers surging across the country, many Americans are experiencing increased uncertainty about how they will vote. 

Over the last week the United States has experienced record shattering single day case numbers of COVID-19, with an average of 77,825 cases per day, an increase of 42 percent from the week prior. In Wisconsin there has been an average of 4,408 new cases each day along with 40 deaths and 1,343 hospitalizations. Troubling statistics such as these has prompted historic levels of participation in early voting. According to the United States Elections Project 82,042,050 votes have already been cast, 1,642,212 of which have come from Wisconsin.  

“Most of our elections this year have had the addition of PPE, disinfectant, and sanitizers in response to COVID-19,” said Deputy City Clerk for the City of Madison, Jim Verbick. “We’ve also needed to utilize more supplies and help from our election officials to send a greater number of absentee ballots. We are sending over 10 times the number of absentee ballots we would normally send.”  

Tim Miller, a paramedic student at Madison College, planned to vote absentee by mail, but was not able to get a mail in ballot on time. The deadline to request an absentee ballot for regular and overseas voters was Oct. 29. While voters who wish to vote early have until Nov. 1 to vote absentee in person, Miller now plans to vote on election day.  

“I feel that it’s not the best option for me with the pandemic and all, but it’s too important not to vote. I will be going with an almost full PPE to the voting booth mask, gloves, eye protection and showering after I vote,” said Miller. 

Tim’s Sister, Katie Miller, a Madison College Transfer student with plans to study nursing at University of Wisconsin, Madison, was able to vote absentee in person. “I didn’t want to be in a big crowd and to possibly get exposed. Also, I was exposed to someone that has COVID so I wanted to get it done before I entered my window that I could expose someone. If I get sick, I didn’t want to worry about not voting,” said Katie. 

Following a 5-3 ruling by the supreme court which blocked a plan to allow mail in ballots to arrive up to six days after the election in Wisconsin, mail in ballots must arrive by election day. According to Verbick, sending ballots by mail at this point may be cutting it too close. Voters who have requested ballots by mail can take them to a ballot drop box, their municipal clerks office, or an in person absentee voting site. Voters who wish to submit their ballot on election day must be sure to take it to their polling place. Due to COVID-19 many polling places have changed this year. Verbick estimates that one-third of Madison polling places have been changed for this election. Postcards have been sent to Madison residents alerting them to the changes. Madison residents can also check their polling place on the clerks page of the City of Madison Website. Wisconsin residents can contact their municipal clerks office or visit for information about where to vote. 

In order to ensure the safety of voters, significant safety measures are to be expected at the poles on Nov. 3. “All of our election officials are required to wear masks.” Verbick said. “We are disinfecting high-touch areas regularly throughout Election Day. We have spare masks for voters who may not have their own. If a voter does not wish to enter a polling place, they may vote at curbside with a pair of election officials. Curbside voting can be done from your car, bike, or on foot. If you are going into the polling place, we ask everyone to keep six feet of distance between other people. We will post signage about distancing and other guidance around and outside of the polling places.” 

Oct. 30 marked the last day that voters could register to vote at their clerks office, prior to election day. However, voters can still register at their polling place on election day. According to Verbick voters can expect to be greeted by individuals stationed at the entrances of polling places (either inside or outside) who will verify that voters are at the correct location and are registered to vote. Each polling place will have a location where individuals will receive assistance in registering to vote. Those wishing to register will need to provide proof of residence, which can be anything from a driver’s license/learners permit, a university, college or tech college ID, or a utilities bill from the last 90 days. A comprehensive list can be found on the Wisconsin Elections Commission website. 

Voters must also provide an ID in order to receive a ballot. According to Verbick, “An acceptable voter ID can be a Wisconsin driver’s license or ID, a passport, military ID, or a student ID if it has the student’s name, student signature, an issuance date, and an expiration date two years from the issuance date. It is possible to present an expired student ID as long as the student can also provide proof that they are currently enrolled like with a tuition statement of class schedule. Wisconsin driver’s licenses and IDs and passports can be expired, as long as they have not expired prior to the November 2018 election. Addresses on the Wisconsin driver’s license and ID do not need to be the voter’s current address to use as a Voter ID, but they cannot be used to register to voter if the address is different.”  

For voters who are anxious about whether or not their vote will be counted Verbick says that after election day “it can take at least a month for your participation in an election to show up on the site. In order to record the participation of every voter, we need to go page by page in every poll book to record the participation in the state’s system. If you do not see your participation in the MyVote website the day after the election, that is normal. Counting your vote and recording your participation are two different things.”