CRAWFORD COUNTY - In a tumultuous year, dominated by a global health pandemic, a team of dedicated public servants were busy administering three hotly contested elections under unbelievably difficult conditions.
County clerks across the state responded to multiple changes in election procedures, an unprecedented number of absentee ballots, and need to sanitize polling places for in-person voting.
In Crawford County, this herculean effort was led by County Clerk Janet Geisler, who will retire at the end of the year after 41 years of public service in the county.
“2020 was a very hard year for administering elections,” Geisler said. “It was a constant struggle to stay abreast of the latest updates to election procedures and deadlines, and to work with my municipal clerks to keep them well informed.”
Geisler reported, especially with the April election, that she “almost felt guilty at times” when she would check her e-mail in the evening, and discover yet another change.
“With the April election, the changes occurred right up until the night before the election,” Geisler remembered. “There’s no question but that 2020 has been my most stressful year.”
Geisler wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to the municipal clerks in the county for all their hard work on the 2020 elections.
“I only have two clerks in the county that work full-time, and the rest have another full-time job and do the clerk job as well,” Geisler said. “The elections this year required an incredible amount of extra work on everyone’s part, from daily absentee ballot logs to sanitizing and upholding extra polling place safety measures in the middle of a pandemic.”
Geisler said that she had delivered all of the sanitizing supplies from the state to each polling place in person. She said she wanted to do this because “it gave me time to sit down and talk things over and maintain a good connection.”
Geisler said that she had prepared her team for the possibility of a recount following the November 2020 election, and was grateful that it wasn’t needed.
For this, and so many other reasons, it’s not surprising that the Crawford County Board of Supervisors went out of their way to thank Geisler for her 41 years of service at their December meeting. The thanks involved a recitation of her years of service and roles in county employment, 41 long-stemmed roses, a fire ring for her backyard, a plaque that will hang in the County Administration Building entry way, and cake and a reception following the meeting.
Donna Bell serves as clerk for the Town of Scott. She was appreciative of Geisler’s leadership style, and stated that, “she will be missed.”
“As a new town clerk, I had many questions regarding the notices for elections, absentee ballots and the election process in general,” Bell said. “Janet brought the new clerks into her office several months before the election process began, reviewed the procedures and answered our questions.”
Bell commented that Geisler “put me at ease” giving all the information she needed, and just knowing that she was there to answer questions.
“Little did I know at that time that the elections in 2020 would become so difficult,” Bell said. “Janet was always there, giving us the information we needed in a timely fashion, and answering my questions. She did all of this along with all of the other duties of her office, of which elections are only a part.”
“Janet Geisler will be greatly missed!” according to Utica Town Clerk Tanya Peterson.
“Having worked with her for many years, she has always been a great communicator and helpful. I have always appreciated her willingness to help local clerks with election training, new procedures, and keeping up with election laws and changes that happen at a moment’s notice,” Peterson said. “I always knew there was a friendly caring person on the other end with any questions or concerns I have had.
“The Town of Utica wishes Janet a healthy and happy retirement, and The Marketplace in Gays Mills is always there for her to come have lunch like she has done when out delivering materials,” Peterson said. “Best wishes and God Bless Janet!”
Public the best thing
Geisler told the Independent-Scout that the best thing about her job over the years was working with the public.
“Our office routes a lot of traffic for the county,” Geisler said. “When people call our office trying to figure out who they need to contact about county services, 99 percent of the time we are able to direct them to the right person.”
Geisler said that she always enjoyed working with the public, and never forgot that it is the taxpayers that paid her salary. She said that she is also going to miss the day-to-day interactions with her co-workers.
In her time in the clerk’s office, the biggest change Geisler has seen has been the increasing reliance on technology. Prior to 1985, when she got her first computer, it was all “paper and pencil,” she remembered.
“Before the computers, everything was a lot slower,” Geisler said. “We still sell the DNR hunting and fishing licenses, including the commercial fishing licenses with the metal tags, and this year, we had people coming into our office from all over the state for those.”
The clerk’s office no longer does some of the things it used to do in earlier years, but has taken on some additional responsibilities as well.
“We stopped being a place where drivers could get temporary license plates, but we took on administering voting machines for the county,” Geisler said. “There’s no question though, that the internet has changed almost everything, but we still have people that prefer to come and do things in-person in our office.”
Geisler noted that the internet has made administration of election results much easier.
“Now all I have to do is upload the numbers onto the internet,” Geisler said. “This is great because it keeps our phone lines open to respond to any problems that may occur, and means the public and the media can get the results much more easily and quickly.”
History in county
Geisler’s family first moved to rural Eastman from Indiana in 1969. Her father made the move because he wanted to farm. Her parents, Earl and Betty Mills farmed in the area, and raised Geisler and her sister Barb Sutherland.
Geisler graduated from Prairie du Chien High School, and married her high school sweetheart, Michael Geisler, in 1974. The two have always lived in Eastman, and raised their family there. They have two children - son Cory and daughter Beth.
Cory lives with his family in Hartland and works there in a corporate office. He and his wife have given Janet and Michael one granddaughter, Laura. Beth and her husband live in Hawaii, and run a natural greenhouse business there. Through Beth, they have been blessed with a step-grandson Jonah, and a great vacation getaway.
Before coming to work for the county, Geisler worked at a photo processing business in Prairie du Chien. She started with the county part time in 1979, working in the Extension office when Ken Johnson was the extension agent.
Not too long after starting, Geisler was offered additional part time work with the county as a backup operator for the county’s internal switchboard. This part time job eventually became full time. She said that the office was located in the Satter Building, which no longer exists.
From working in the switchboard office, Geisler transferred into the Child Support Agency, which was part of the court system.
Finally, after about nine years, she began a new job in the County Clerk’s office when Pat Benish held the office. She said that the job used to be “much more public” when they sold all of the DNR licenses, and there was no online option. She also assisted with some of the financial matters in the office.
“When Pat decided not to run in 1996, I decided that I would run for the office,” Geisler said. “In that first election, there were four candidates running, and it was all paper ballots, so it was between 3 and 4 a.m. before I knew that I had won.”Geisler said that during the course of that campaign she had gone to every parade and every supper in the attempt to “get her name out there.” She was elected in 1996, and first took office in 1997. That means, in total, she served as the Crawford County Clerk for 23 years.