, ,

Northern Wisconsin Voters Head To Polls For Second Election Amid Pandemic

Special Election Will Fill Vacant 7th Congressional District Seat

Voter outside polling place at Marathon Park in Wausau
A voter leaves the polling place at Marathon Park in Wausau, May 12, 2020. A special election is being held in the 7th Congressional District, which includes central, Northwoods and northwestern Wisconsin. Rob Mentzer/WPR

After nearly eight months without representation in Congress, voters in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District are choosing their next representative Tuesday.

The special election pits Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, against Democrat Tricia Zunker, the Wausau School Board president and a Ho-Chunk Supreme Court justice. It is the state’s second election in five weeks held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Clerks in the district are taking various precautions and enforcing strict social distancing guidelines. The state has provided clerks with personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer for use at voting places. About 250 Wisconsin National Guard members are assisting at polling locations throughout the district.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” said poll worker Ron Roloff, who was working at the polling place at Pilgrim Lutheran Church on Wausau’s southeast side. “This is the first time I’ve seen something like this — we’ve never had a pandemic.”

Poll workers and many voters were wearing face masks at Wausau polling locations. Hand-sanitizer stations were available, plastic screens separated workers from the public, and signs urged voters to practice social distancing.

[[{“fid”:”1249771″,”view_mode”:”full_width”,”fields”:{“format”:”full_width”,”alignment”:””,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EState%20Sen.%20Tom%20Tiffany%2C%20R-Minocqua%2C%20faces%20Democrat%20Tricia%20Zunker%2C%20right%2C%20in%20the%20Tuesday%2C%20May%2012%2C%202020%2C%20special%20election%20in%20the%207th%20Congressional%20District.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3ERob%20Mentzer%2FWPR%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”},”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“2”:{“format”:”full_width”,”alignment”:””,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EState%20Sen.%20Tom%20Tiffany%2C%20R-Minocqua%2C%20faces%20Democrat%20Tricia%20Zunker%2C%20right%2C%20in%20the%20Tuesday%2C%20May%2012%2C%202020%2C%20special%20election%20in%20the%207th%20Congressional%20District.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3ERob%20Mentzer%2FWPR%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”}},”link_text”:false,”attributes”:{“alt”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”,”title”:”Tom Tiffany and Tricia Zunker”,”class”:”media-element file-full-width”,”data-delta”:”2″}}]]

The 7th Congressional District includes much of central Wisconsin and the Northwoods and all of northwestern Wisconsin. It’s a mostly rural, mostly conservative district where Republicans are favored to win. In 2016, the district voted for President Donald Trump by 20 points. The seat became vacant in September when Republican former U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy resigned for family reasons.

Most experts expect Tuesday’s results to be a lot closer than in 2016. Zunker has seen more support from party activists and donors than any Democrat in the district has had in years.

The campaign “just flew by,” Zunker said on a Facebook Live town hall Sunday. “We’re not far from results, and you know what else we’re not far from? Having real representation for the people again.”

Trump’s Wisconsin campaign on Saturday boasted that volunteers had made more than 1 million phone calls to voters in the district supporting Tiffany’s campaign. The president has tweeted his endorsement of Tiffany several times in recent weeks.

[[{“fid”:”1250591″,”view_mode”:”full_width”,”fields”:{“format”:”full_width”,”alignment”:””,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EPoll%20workers%20wear%20masks%20and%20sit%20behind%20protective%20screens%20at%20the%20polling%20place%20at%20Pilgrim%20Lutheran%20Church%20on%20Wausau’s%20southeast%20side%2C%20May%2012%2C%202020.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3ERob%20Mentzer%2FWPR%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”},”type”:”media”,”field_deltas”:{“3”:{“format”:”full_width”,”alignment”:””,”field_image_caption[und][0][value]”:”%3Cp%3EPoll%20workers%20wear%20masks%20and%20sit%20behind%20protective%20screens%20at%20the%20polling%20place%20at%20Pilgrim%20Lutheran%20Church%20on%20Wausau’s%20southeast%20side%2C%20May%2012%2C%202020.%26nbsp%3B%3Cem%3ERob%20Mentzer%2FWPR%3C%2Fem%3E%3C%2Fp%3E%0A”,”field_image_caption[und][0][format]”:”full_html”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”}},”link_text”:false,”attributes”:{“alt”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”,”title”:”Protection at polling place, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Wausau”,”class”:”media-element file-full-width”,”data-delta”:”3″}}]]

As of Monday, data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission showed 112,892 people in the district had requested absentee ballots; 110,024 ballots had been sent out; and 76,259 had been returned. In the April 7 elections, a little more than half of those who voted in the district did so by absentee ballot. There are 423,239 registered voters in the district. About 201,000 voted in April.

Unlike in Wisconsin’s April elections, there is no extension to allow mail-in ballots to be received by clerks. All ballots must be in by 8 p.m. Election Day, and results are expected Tuesday night.

The winner will serve the remainder of the term, about six months. Both candidates have said that, win or lose, they intend to continue to campaign through November’s election.