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Vote clerks take election to care center residents

When at least one group of potential local voters can't get to the polls for an election, the election comes to them.

Ellsworth Village Clerk-Treasurer Peggy Nelson said last week the state requires municipalities where facilities like the Ellsworth Care Center are located to arrange for their residents to vote by absentee ballot, if desired. And that's where Yvonne Kulow and Lillian Peterson step in.

Kulow and Peterson are voting clerks, responsible for delivering absentee ballots from the village hall to the care center, seeing to it they're completed by residents wishing to vote, and returning them to the hall to be included with the others from election day. The pair was on-the-job Thursday in advance of the spring election Tuesday of this week.

"We help those who are ambulatory right here in the dining room," Kulow said, adding, "then we go into the others' rooms."

If participation at the nursing home last week is any indication, the latest local voting turnout should be light. Kulow explained the village clerk's office sends someone there first to determine who's going to vote. Based on that preliminary visit, the two expected they'd have five residents voting this time. After they arrived, it ended up being three.

"None of the people running for village board are opposed," she reminded in telling why she wasn't surprised by the low response at the home.

She agreed the number of local school board candidates may help boost regular voter involvement, however. As with the voting public, care center participation varies according to interest; presidential elections tend to draw more nursing home residents than off-year elections, for example.

The forms they carry to the residents include ballots just like those other voters get, with the visiting clerks signing the backs to confirm they've helped the nursing home voters. Kulow said she and Peterson take the participating residents in the dining room over to one side of that room for privacy. Sometimes, a family member will be present to assist them with marking the ballot; otherwise, the clerks serve that function.

"They may have trouble marking it; many of them can't hear," she said, admitting some can't even see well enough to read. The completed ballots are put inside special envelopes to be kept private.

The clerks aren't to influence their votes, but occasionally answer a question about a candidate, if appropriate, Kulow said. For instance, among last week's ballot names was Linda Clifford, a candidate for justice of the state supreme court. Because Clifford is a common name in Maiden Rock, one resident from that community wondered if it was the same person she'd known in the past. The confused woman was told this Clifford is from Madison.

Kulow, who's been a voting clerk for approximately five years, and Peterson, who's done it for around two years, have both been trained for the duty, the former said. Some training sessions have been attended by all of the municipal clerks in the county as well, while others at the county office building have featured a TV link to Madison for distant educational instruction.

"After all, voting laws are changing all the time," Kulow said.

She's a Plum City native, previously a member of the county's election canvass board for six years, she said. That board meets with the county clerk the Thursday after each election to verify the overall ballot count was correct.

After graduating from the old high school in Plum City, she worked in x-ray technology at St. Mary's Hospital in the Twin Cities for five years, she said. When she married husband James, they moved to Red Wing, where he was employed at the tannery. She became a stay-at-home mother for their seven children, the farthest away of whom now lives in Minneapolis. They have nine grandchildren.

They moved to Ellsworth in 1985 and she presently volunteers at her church (St. Francis) plus at the Pierce County Food Pantry, she said.

Peterson is an Ellsworth High School graduate, having lived here as a teenager, she said. She and her husband, Marlin, had a 200-acre farm in rural Bay City, raising steers and hogs, and growing various crops. She, too, was a stay-at-home mom to their six children, three of whom are presently in the Wisconsin-Minnesota region, while the other three are in Alabama, California and Texas. They have 14 grandchildren.

She once worked on a casing machine at Josten's in Red Wing, was an employee in the former Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office in Pierce County and was treasurer for the Town of Hartland for 14 years, she said. Besides being a farmer, her spouse was a union carpenter who helped build the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant near Red Wing, among other jobs. Nine years ago, they sold the farm and moved to Ellsworth. In her spare time, she enjoys doing crossword puzzles and going golfing, and, like Kulow, volunteers at her church (English Lutheran).

Both voting clerks said they learned of the need for people to handle this responsibility and applied for it. They encouraged others who are interested to contact Nelson and get on a list for future elections, as those who are clerking now aren't always available for every election and back-ups are appreciated.