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Wisconsin's next election is Aug. 13. It's the primary election for dozens of Wisconsin legislative seats, and it will include two constitutional amendment ballot questions. Here's a guide to help people vote in Wisconsin.

Poll workers continue essential work as Wisconsin prepares for big election year

Vacant voting booths in the library of Riverwest Elementary School.
Nadya Kelly
Vacant voting booths in the library of Riverwest Elementary School.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published February 29, 2024.

Poll workers have faced many challenges in recent years. From staffing shortages during the pandemic to increased scrutiny following the 2020 presidential election. Amid these challenges, the need to train, support and retain election workers is greater than ever.

As chief inspector of Milwaukee’s Riverwest Elementary polling location, Philip’s main job is to make sure everything runs smoothly. This means ensuring that the polls are safe, secure, and efficient for voters to cast their ballots. However, on the morning of the Feb. 20 spring primary election, an unexpected issue came up. One of his morning shift workers didn't report for work.

Philip, who asked us not to use his last name due to safety concerns, couldn’t find another worker to replace the no-show.

He had to either fill that position himself, which meant stepping away from his supervising role, or leave the post uncovered. At this polling place, Philip needed one person to welcome voters, two people to check voters in, one person to register new voters, and one person to run ballots through the counting machine.

With one worker missing, he also worried he wouldn’t be able to give his staff enough breaks.

"Being fully staffed is vital. Depriving people of a break is something that is quite literally against the law. I’m treading on very thin ground by not being able to give them a break." Philip says. "But the thing is that positions have to be covered, and I can’t do that with only five people."

A man in a red shirt sits down at a table. The table is covered in paperwork.
Nadya Kelly
Chief Inspector Philip oversees the election worker staff at the Riverwest Elementary School polling location.

The staffing issues at this site are similar to what’s been happening at Milwaukee’s 180 polling places and across the country since the COVID pandemic. But former Milwaukee Election Commission Director Claire Woodall says the situation is getting better.

"I often say that one of the best things to come out of 2020 was it really highlighted the work of our election workers and the need for a whole generation to step up and get involved in their civic duty by working at the polls," Woodall says.

Woodall says the city has stepped up its efforts to new poll workers feel prepared.

One change the Commission made is hiring a full-time training coordinator for poll workers. Another is implementing new software so workers can access training and assignments online. Chief inspectors can also use this software to request replacement workers if someone does not show up.

"Between elections we're offering them training resources so that they feel prepared," Woodall says. "What we've seen is when we lose workers, it's because they didn't feel prepared at their polling place when they went."

Election inspector Fitz became a poll worker about 2 years ago. He also asked that we not use his last time due to safety concerns. In the past, Fitz worked for politicians. He saw working at voting sites as another way to participate in politics, but he says learning all the rules and regulations in a two-hour poll worker training was daunting.

A man stands and looks at a bulletin board. Papers including information about voting and elections are pinned to the bulletin board.
Nadya Kelly
Election Inspector Fitz stands at the entrance of the polling place.

And, Fitz says, the pay isn’t much of an incentive. In Milwaukee, poll workers receive a $220 stipend for a full-day shift and $113 for a half-day shift.

But the pay isn’t the only thing on poll workers' minds this year. Woodall explains there are lingering safety concerns.

After former President Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen, abuse and harassment of election officials increased.

"We've been really fortunate not to have any type of instances at polling places where our workers felt threatened or like they were being attacked by someone," Woodall says. "But it's definitely in the front of their minds and wanting to make sure that they have that skill set and know what to do in the case of an emergency."

Although Mari Lynn Young hasn’t received any threats herself, she worries about the possibility. Like Fitz and Philip, she was working at Riverwest Elementary on spring primary day.

"With the advent of increased violent tendencies with the 2020 election, I’m very concerned about potential violence," Young says.  

Young says she keeps working at the polls because she believes it’s essential to democracy. "Supporting voters and voting rights are very important to me, so becoming an election inspector is very important," Young says. 

She says everyone should participate in democracy in some way, especially ahead of the November presidential election.

Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
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