Wausau’s new mayor puts her marketing background to work with a new feature to attract people to the polls.
Even before Tuesday’s election, voter turnout has been high in Wausau, with 51% of eligible voters having already cast their ballots in the form of mail-in and early in-person voting.
But Katie Rosenberg, who was elected Wausau’s mayor in April, is adamant about getting as many people to vote as possible. She decided to use her background in marketing as a way to boost turnout.
“This election feels really heavy right now, with COVID-19 and the really serious issues we are facing,” Rosenberg said. “I thought ‘How can we make voting more fun?’ If you want people to do things, you have to market it to them.“
So Rosenberg ordered selfie photo stations for each of the city’s five polling locations. The stations are white walls covered with “My Vote Counts” and “I Voted Today” messages in blue and red letters. The units cost about $130 apiece, she said, and came from Rosenberg’s mayoral promotions budget.
Once people have voted and received their “I Voted” sticker, they can pose by the stations set up outside polling places and take a selfie photo to celebrate having voted, then post those pictures on social media.
“This is a fun way for people to do something important, to get people excited about voting,” Rosenberg said.
The first of the selfie voting stations was set up Thursday at City Hall, where early in-person voting occurred from Oct. 20-30. People seemed to enjoy the voting novelty, Rosenberg said, a notion backed up by positive comments about the stations on Facebook.
“If you want to make young people proud of the fact that they voted and convince other people to vote, social media is the way to do it,” Heather Wood posted.
Prompted by concerns about contracting COVID-19, Wisconsin voters and those across the country are voting absentee in record numbers. Statewide, a record 1.89 million people, or 51% of registered voters, have cast absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election. Dane County has the highest percentage, at 63.6%, followed by Ozaukee County at 63.1%, and Waukesha County at 62.9%.
In Eau Claire, more than half of voters have already cast ballots, with 8,853 voting early in person via drive-thru voting sessions from Oct. 20-30, part of the 21,530 who have voted absentee for this election.
Eau Claire City Clerk Carrie Reipl said she has enough workers to staff city polling places, but is losing some as they are exposed to COVID-19 or learn they have contracted the virus. Some other election clerks reported the same but said they have enough to oversee elections and count ballots.
“We are losing some people to COVID-19, but our staffing numbers still look pretty good,” said Amy White, city clerk in River Falls.
In Wausau, 11,437 people have voted absentee, including 3,245 who voted early in person. Those numbers far outpace 2016, when about 2,500 people there voted absentee.
That isn’t a surprise, Rosenberg said, given that Wausau and surrounding Marathon County have been among the coronavirus hotspots in Wisconsin, which has among the top virus infection rates in the country currently. As of Monday there were 5,577 cases of COVID-19 in the county and 61 deaths. One in every 52 county residents has tested positive for the virus.
“Those are huge numbers,” Rosenberg said. “Way too many people are dying.”
Despite coronavirus concerns and a record number of absentee votes, Rosenberg and election clerks said they expect relatively heavy turnout at election sites Tuesday. And when voters cast ballots in Wausau, Rosenberg said she hopes they feel a mix of pride and joy with the selfie stations.
“In the end, this is all about getting as many people to vote as possible,” she said.
Keep up to date with all of our coverage at the UpNorthNews Election Blog.