Election 2020 Wisconsin

FILE - In this April 7, 2020 file photo, Bridget McDonald, right, receives a ballot from poll worker Patty Piek-Groth in Janesville, Wis. Only a handful of smaller Wisconsin municipalities are reporting a need for more poll workers, a positive sign as the coronavirus surges in the key battleground states just weeks before Election Day. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Only 13 mostly small Wisconsin communities are reporting poll worker shortages less than three weeks before the November election, despite surging cases of the coronavirus in the key battleground state.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission planned to release a detailed report Thursday on shortage areas that it will submit to the Wisconsin National Guard, which has been called up in the past two statewide elections this year to help fill gaps. Gov. Tony Evers will make a determination, based on the report and any subsequent developments, on whether it will be necessary to activate the Guard in November.

The lack of a poll worker shortage is particularly good news given that Wisconsin is a hot spot for COVID-19. This week the state broke single-day records for new cases, deaths and hospitalizations. A field hospital near Milwaukee opened Wednesday to handle an overflow of patients.

The elections commission's website currently lists only three villages, eight towns and the cities of Mayville and Watertown as still needing workers.

Watertown City Clerk Elissa Friedl said Thursday that she had just asked the elections commission to remove her city from the list because she was confident all 100 people needed to work the polls on Election Day would be available. Even if people back out close to the election, Friedl said she has city employees at the ready to fill vacancies. Watertown has about 24,000 residents and is located midway between Madison and Milwaukee.

Unlike the April election, when a shortage of poll workers led Milwaukee to close more than 100 polling places, there are no widespread gaps at this point headed into November, said Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney.

"Clerks are doing a good job of recruiting and Wisconsin citizens are stepping up in response to either calls to action or problems that occurred in April," Magney said.

In April, just five of Milwaukee's polling places were open, leading to long lines and concerns about a spike in COVID-19 cases. But in August, it had nearly 170 and in November there will be 173, Magney said. Statewide there will be 2,408 polling places, compared with 2,578 in 2016, he said.

Some clerks had to consolidate polling places because ones used previously, including those in nursing homes or senior centers, can't be used due to COVID-19 concerns, Magney said. Clerks in many places are opting to use larger facilities such as gymnasiums, where it's easier for voters to cast ballots without being in close contact with others, he said.

Election officials, advocacy groups and others in Wisconsin and across the country have been recruiting poll workers more aggressively this year because older volunteers have been backing out due to concerns over the coronavirus. Younger people, such as 26-year-old Karli Tatum of Milwaukee, have been a target because they are less vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"I want to be able to do my part the way that I can," Tatum said. "I do feel like I'll be safe. There's always a slight chance. I mean, even when I go to the grocery store, I feel like there's a slight chance."

Poll workers in Wisconsin can only volunteer at sites in the counties where they live. A federal lawsuit brought by Democrats, voting rights advocacy groups and others sought to allow people to volunteer at counties outside of where they live. A lower court judge granted that request, but the decision was put on hold on now the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to take the case.

A record-high number of Wisconsin voters are also casting ballots absentee, which election officials say should cut down on lines on Election Day as well. As of Thursday, more than 785,000 voters had returned absentee ballots. That is more than 26% of the total number who voted in the 2016 presidential election.

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Associated Press writer Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee contributed to this story.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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