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Will There Be Enough Election Volunteers in WI?

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Many election clerks in Wisconsin feel confident about having enough volunteers for the election, but they acknowledge things could change with COVID-19 cases on the rise. (Adobe Stock)
Many election clerks in Wisconsin feel confident about having enough volunteers for the election, but they acknowledge things could change with COVID-19 cases on the rise. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
October 6, 2020

GREENVILLE, Wis. -- Just like 2016, Wisconsin is seen as a battleground state for the election, with a constant flow of court challenges possibly affecting the outcome. But another emerging factor, amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, is whether there will be enough volunteers.

Municipal clerks rely on volunteers to help at polling locations and process absentee ballots. Voting absentee is expected to be widely used because of the worsening pandemic in the Badger State.

Wendy Helgeson, president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, said as older workers decline to participate because of health risks, others are stepping up because of the magnitude of the situation. But she said needs could still change.

"Even during non-pandemic times, people get sick, or something comes up and they can't come on Election Day," Helgeson said. "So, we want to make sure that we have plenty of volunteers because we don't know what's going to happen."

And with COVID spiking, the volunteer ranks could see dramatic swings.

This summer, the group Voter Protection Corps evaluated poll staffing in battleground states. In Wisconsin, nearly 30 counties were identified as areas in need of immediate recruiting efforts. In the August primaries, the Wisconsin National Guard was mobilized to help out.

Helgeson said her group hasn't seen any specific requests from clerks to enhance recruitment. She noted the Wisconsin Election Commission has been a key force in helping to spread the message for volunteer needs.

She said voters who choose to use absentee ballots can help the process by paying close attention to the instructions.

"That would save a lot of time, making sure that voters are completing that envelope," she said.

During the state's other primary this year, 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected for several reasons, including instances where voters or their witness forgot to sign. That makes it harder for clerks and their volunteers to address ballots that contain mistakes. These staff already are expected to count a lot of mailed-in ballots past Election Day because of high demand.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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