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Wisconsin election still on, voting extended amid COVID-19 pandemic; officials see shortage of poll workers

Eric Chaloux
Updated: April 02, 2020 06:12 PM
Created: April 02, 2020 03:20 PM

The Wisconsin Elections Commission said nearly 60% of municipalities report a shortage of poll workers, estimated at nearly 7,000 ahead of Tuesday’s spring election and presidential primary. However, a federal judge on Thursday decided to extend election voting in the state.

To help with the shortage of poll workers, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will have National Guard members work at polling sites.

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"This is definitely a new request for us,” said Captain Joe Trovato, of the Wisconsin National Guard. “I don't think we've ever done anything like it.”

The Guard in Madison said it’s unclear at this point just how many members will be sent to the polls.

Under state law, that guard member must reside in the county in which they'll be assigned.

"We're honored to be a small part of the state's overall response to COVID-19,” Trovato said. “If we can help in this way or be of service, we stand ready to do it."

The city of Hudson, in St. Croix County, is seeing a shortage of poll workers, too.

"As time goes on, they are not feeling comfortable, they are backing out,” said Becky Eggen, city clerk for the city of Hudson. “We have resorted to some library staff since the library closed ... we've resorted to a lot of staff members to help us out."

Wisconsin election officials said by mid-day Thursday they had 1 million absentee ballot requests from voters, which is a record for the state.

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"Between absentee voting, staffing polls, making sure there are safety measures in place ... it's crazy," Eggen said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is making sure polls have safety measures in place for staff.

That includes providing 25,000 facemasks for poll workers, 7,000 bottles of sanitizer and a brand new pen for every voter so there is no sharing.

"We've been doing a lot of work in the last weeks to get ready," said Reid Magney with the Wisconsin Elections Commission. “It’s certainly been a challenge, we’re really doing our best.” 

Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge William Conley declined to postpone Wisconsin's presidential primary but ordered that residents be given an extra six days beyond the election for absentee voting.

The deadline for voters to get absentee ballots to local clerks had been 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but Conley's order shifted that to 4 p.m. on April 13. Conley also extended the deadline for voters to request ballots by a day to 5 p.m. this Friday.

In response to the Judge's order, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers made the following statement:

"In the absence of the Legislature doing its part to ensure a fair and safe election, I appreciate that the court chose to implement some of the common-sense solutions that I've been advocating for. It's great news that Wisconsinites will have more time to request and submit a ballot and that clerks will have more time to count ballots. I continue to encourage every Wisconsinite to request their absentee ballot and vote safely from home."

Conley also lifted a witness requirement for absentee ballot applications, writing that voters can provide a written affirmation that they could not safely obtain a witness signature due to coronavirus fears.

Several states have postponed elections or shifted to all mail, but the Democratic Evers and Republican leaders have been committed to Wisconsin's date, arguing there's no guarantee conditions will improve in a couple of months and postponing the election risks leaving many local offices unfilled for an extended period. However, Evers recently asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters, a request the GOP rejected, and on Wednesday said for the first time that if he could move the election he would.

You can find more information on the election from the Wisconsin Elections Commission here.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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