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April 7 Poll Worker Shortage Worries Some Wisconsin Election Commissioners

Marti Mikkelson
Two people cast their ballots at the Charles Allis Museum on Milwaukee's east side during the February spring primaries.

Wisconsin faces a severe shortage of poll workers for next week’s in-person spring election because of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s according to the Wisconsin Election Commission. It released a survey of municipal clerks across the state Tuesday. Some clerks said they are so short-staffed that they won’t be able to conduct an in-person election at all.

The April 7 election includes Wisconsin’s presidential primary, a state Supreme Court race, and scores of local elections. The commission discussed election clerks' concerns in an emergency meeting via teleconference Tuesday.

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Commissioner Ann Jacobs said she fears a debacle on election day. “What are we going to tell the voters in these critical locations? Sorry, we’re not having an election today," she said. "My concern is that we are pretending with our fingers crossed and unicorn wishes that we are going to be able to cobble together a way to administer this election."

Jacobs said she’s also concerned about a huge increase in absentee ballots that are being mailed out to voters this spring. She said she fears the deluge will swamp the U.S. Postal Service and worries many completed ballots won’t make it back to city clerks in time to be counted. 

If you already have your absentee ballot, you must return it to your municipal clerk by mail or delivery, according to My Vote Wisconsin. Your ballot must be received by your municipal clerk by 8 p.m. on Election Day, which is April 7.

As for the shortage of poll workers, Wisconsin Election Commission leader Meagan Wolfe said the state has been reaching out to colleges, labor unions, and state employees to recruit people to staff voting sites. She insisted polling places will be adequately staffed on election day.

“So, we’re continuing to work very hard on finding a pool of resources of people that we can train that could be deployed in the event that on election day there’s a report of a polling place that doesn’t have any poll workers,” Wolfe said.

Meanwhile, Wolfe said the Wisconsin National Guard will assist in delivering bottles of hand sanitizer to the counties Wednesday to keep the polling places clean. She also said the state has also ordered more than 1 million pens that voters can use and keep, so they won’t have to worry about sharing pens with others. 

Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly said ballots postmarked by April 7 would be counted. Your ballot must be received by your municipal clerk no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, April 7.

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Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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