At one polling place in Janesville, lines stretched so long Tuesday that poll workers told voters they could fill out ballots as they stood waiting for an open booth—if they didn’t mind the chance others could peek at their votes.
That’s one story the Rock County Clerk’s Office officials shared to underscore the overflow of voters who took to the polls throughout the county during Tuesday’s election.
All told, about 68,678 voters crowded polling places Tuesday. That was just 7,200 or so fewer than the number who’d turned out for the presidential election in 2016.
Overall, it was a 57 percent turnout of eligible voters, with some wards in Beloit and Janesville showing much higher turnouts, Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said.
Compared to the 2010 midterm election, when 52,700 voted, and the 2014 midterm, when 58,800 voted, Tuesday’s showing at the polls was a flood of voters.
Although Tollefson said the turnout only slightly outpaced her predictions, it was a glut of voting for a midterm.
“It was heavy. It was a heavy turnout,” Tollefson said.
At a few precincts, Tollefson said, extra voting machines had to be trucked out to count an overflow of ballots.
An Afton polling place that ran out of ballots Tuesday evening had some voters fill out copies of ballots. Those copies had to be “remade” later into official ballots that could be electronically scanned that a poll worker couriered in, Tollefson said.
Some polling places saw a flood of voters in the morning.
Poll worker Bob Drew said action at the Blain Supply polling place on Janesville’s east side kept him on his feet from 7 a.m. until noon before he was able to take his first break.
The polling place serves wards 12, 27 and 28, comprising more than 5,000 eligible voters. As of 1 p.m., 1,500 voters had cast ballots at the Blain Supply polling place, and one of the wards had a continuous line all day, poll worker Lois Forbes said.
About 1,000 voters among the three wards voted absentee. That meant voter turnout at that polling place already had capped 50 percent by midday, Forbes and another poll worker, Craig Gramke, said.
“That’s a boatload,” Forbes said.
City of Janesville Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek said early on Tuesday the city was on pace to have more than 22,000 voters turn out.
That estimate was alongside the about 6,000 absentee voters in the city.
Clerks reported no major technical difficulties. Godek said a ballot jam in a vote-counting machine delayed voting for a few minutes.
Tollefson said poll workers had to set up a second electronic ballot box at the Rock County Job Center polling place because a line was backing up as people tried to feed their votes into just one machine.
It took a few minutes to set up the second box, Tollefson said, and during that time poll officials told people they could fill out their ballots in line if the wait was too long for them.
Godek said he was receiving reports of 10- to 15-minute waits, but some wards had no waits at all. Some, however, had periods of waits 45 minutes or more.
More than 400 had voted at Janesville City Hall by noontime, Godek said.
City Hall hosts wards 3 and 4 on the near west side, which usually have the city’s lowest turnout, Godek said, but those wards Tuesday afternoon were on a pace to exceed the 1,603 who turned out in the 2016 presidential election.
Forbes said she was seeing a larger than average number of first-time voters registering on the spot. She said among those new voters, the demographic skewed heavily younger and female, but she noted the precinct was seeing a bigger number of new “minority” voters Tuesday.
Al and Judy Schmeiser, who live across the street from the St. Mark Lutheran Church polling place on Janesville’s east side, kept an eye on the church parking lot from their window.
When voter activity thinned at midday, they headed over to vote.
Al Schmeiser said he wanted to vote to try to break up what he called “stagnancy” in state and federal government. The Schmeisers did not say who they voted for, but Judy said she hoped to see “change” come out of the election.
“Somebody needs to focus more to help out the common man,” she said.
Judy was surprised yet happy, she said, to see so many people out voting in a midterm.
“You should have seen the way the parking lot was packed at this church earlier today. It was awful,” she said.
“Well, I shouldn’t say awful. It’s good. It’s good this many people are out voting. It’s time.”