About 80 people in line at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Eau Claire when the polls opened.
About 80 people in line at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Eau Claire when the polls opened. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

New blood at the polling places, patience for long lines and late results.

At Riverside High School in Milwaukee there was virtually no line Tuesday morning, a far cry from the April 7 election when the line of voters was hours long and wound around the block before twisting through a nearby park.

Meanwhile in Eau Claire, a half hour before polls opened, voters gathered in the early morning darkness outside of Bethesda Lutheran Church.

The lack of a crowd in Milwaukee is largely a function of early voting that was made more popular by the lines of April 3 when the city’s usual 170 polling places narrowed to just five for a city of 600,000 people concerned about the then-new coronavirus outbreak.

Eduardo Castillo, Amie Kabera, Lexi Michell were voting at Riverside High School. Castillo and Michell said they come from immigrant households and found it extremely important to come vote to make sure those views were represented. All three said they voted for Biden.

“We need everyone’s opinion,” Michell said, noting how millions of eligible voters don’t turn out for most elections. “It’s everyone’s country, so we need everyone’s opinion.”

“People certainly are coming out to vote today,” Eau Claire City Clerk Carrie Riepl said, glancing at the line of voters outside Bethesda. “We had a lot of absentee votes, but I think we will have a lot of in-person voters today too.”

Before the church opened to voters, polling place workers readied the location and went over last-minute details for how to handle the process. Riepl said she has enough workers to staff polling places despite losing some in recent days to COVID-19 exposure.

Nathaniel Langner is working for the first time Tuesday at a polling place, and he and others discussed details of their jobs at Bethesda before opening the door to voters. He said he decided to work at a voting site because he knew some older people who typically work at polling places would be unwilling to do so because of fears of contracting COVID-19.

Langner, a 21-year-old UW-Eau Claire student, said he was surprised to learn how much planning goes into operating an election site. 

“It will be interesting to see how all of this comes together, when all the voters are in here,” he said minutes before the polling place opened. 

At Falk Middle School in Madison, Mary Detert has served as a poll worker for years. She sat out the April primary because of coronavirus concerns, but was back at it for the August elections and is helping to process absentee ballots on Tuesday.

Detert said her voting ward usually receives a “fat envelope or so” full of absentee ballots. This election, it has received three banker’s boxes full, that is roughly 1,900 ballots. More will be delivered later in the day, Detert said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Detert said. We don’t want to be working into the wee hours of the night getting them done. We want to get them done in a timely manner.”

Outside Center Street Library in Milwaukee, which was not open as a polling place on April 7, Ramiro Diaz said he was driven to the polls by “humanity.”

“Having someone who is guiding us based on … how they treat people, how they expect people to be treated in this world,” Diaz said. “To respect others based on what they are, not what they look like, what they live like, or who they associate with.”

Diaz said he voted for former Vice President Joe Biden. He said “our country is like a can of worms, almost; it’s been opened up.”

“It’s a good thing that it’s open, because now the work can be done to correct it,” he said.

Meanwhile, 68-year-old Donald Bloom said he was motivated to vote because he backs President Donald Trump and legislative Republicans in Wisconsin. The president’s strong stances regarding law enforcement, his economic policy and his willingness to speak his mind engender the president to Bloom. 

“I like the way he’s outspoken,” Bloom, of Eau Claire, said. “He doesn’t sound like other politicians, and I like that. True, he says controversial stuff sometimes. But he also says some things that need to be said.“   

A record 1.9 million Wisconsin residents voted absentee in the weeks prior to Election Day, many seeking to avoid possibly contracting the coronavirus. But plenty of people were coming to vote in person too, ready to vote in this presidential election that has been unlike any before it. 

Whether voting Republican or Democratic, voters were motivated by strong convictions about the future direction of Wisconsin and the country. 

Joyce Juneil, 57, said she had been voting since she was first able to. She lives on disability and came to the polling site with a mask and gloves on. She said she has a 17-year-old grandson who wishes he could vote this year.

Juneil says not supporting Donald Trump has driven her to the polls. “I thank that’s all he does is tell lies. I’m concerned about Social Security issues because with me being on disability, I’ve been working since I was 14, I want to make sure my disability and other peoples’ disabilities are still intact.”

Juneil tells her family that other members of her family have died for their right to vote.

Frustrated with the direction of the nation under Trump, 27-year-old Jenny Lee said she was determined to vote. 

“There’s no way I wasn’t going to vote in this election,” Lee, of Eau Claire, said after casting her ballot. “From the environment to the economy, and especially with COVID-19, things are headed in the wrong direction. If we want to change things, voting is the way to do it.”

Back at Riverside, Lexi Michell said she’s not sure how the country can begin to heal its divisions after the election.

“I feel like we’re gonna kind of eat s–t for a little bit,” she said.