Pandemic mother-daughter voting

Absentee ballots didn't arrive, so when courts ruled, we had a decision to make

Voter at the entrance to Madison polling station wearing a bandana covering her face.
Rowan Conklin heads inside to vote in Madison after her ballot got sent to her campus address in Minneapolis. (Photos: Melanie Conklin)

The very first time our newborn daughter went anywhere outside of the house after coming home from the hospital it was to go to our polling place with me to vote in a Wisconsin election. She was just a few days old.

Daughter and mother voting in the #WisconsinPandemicElection
Daughter and mother heading out to vote in the #WisconsinPandemicElection

Tuesday, that daughter — she’s now 21 years old — and I set out with bandanas covering half our faces toward our neighborhood polling location. My absentee ballot, which I had twice requested did not even register as having been requested on My Vote. Her absentee ballot was in an apartment at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities where no one has resided for a month. The replacement absentee ballot she requested never arrived.

The mood was off. No joy at exercising our democratic right. Instead we were thinking about keeping up our makeshift face masks, wondering whether the polls were going to be filled with people spreading COVID-19 or poll workers getting sick from doing their work.

West Madison polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church workers are behind plexiglass passing ballots to voters. (Photo: Melanie Conklin)
Poll workers are behind plexiglass passing ballots to voters.

Election day is marked as a holiday for our family — the kids always came with us to the polls to watch us vote, we’d have a fun dinner and watch returns or head out to election night gatherings. Election days held hope and possibility.

We walked to our polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison and there were few cars in the typically full parking lot. No one entering. No one leaving. I’ll confess something I’m embarrassed to write: We took a couple of photos and I had a passing thought that I hoped neither one of us would look at those pictures later and wonder if … 

Inside there was one other voter in front of us and more than a dozen poll workers. Most wore masks, some gloves, they sat behind plexiglass to view our IDs, push forward the poll books for us to sign and receive our ballots. We got our own pen to use for the process — which was collected at the end, presumably to be sanitized. No stickers.

West Madison polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church workers are behind plexiglass passing ballots to voters. (Photo: Melanie Conklin)
West Madison polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church workers are behind plexiglass.

Immediately after we fed our ballots into the machine (I never noticed before that you don’t have to touch it) there was a man with a spray bottle and cloth wiping down the booths we’d been standing in to record our votes.

West Madison polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church workers are behind plexiglass passing ballots to voters. (Photo: Melanie Conklin)
West Madison polling location at Covenant Presbyterian Church voters follow blue tape to social distance from one another. No voters were present at this time.

As we walked out the door with fresh sanitizer on our hands, a gentleman wearing a N95 respirator mask entered. He was the only voter in the place until a man with no protective gear who rolled his eyes at the mask-wearing man from the parking lot, entered behind him.

“Have there been any drive-up voters?” a woman walking alone through the parking lot asked (from well over six feet away). We talked across the distance for a few moments. She normally works the polls but could not take the risk this time — and wanted to know how her fellow poll workers were faring. Our brief conversation ended with the new Wisconsin-nice farewell exchange: “Stay safe.” 

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.