Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

Local clerks generally say they will have sufficient staffing for Election Day, but the state’s top election official reported today 51 municipalities across 31 counties are facing a severe shortage of poll workers.

Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe said during her weekly media briefing that shortage equated to roughly 180 poll workers statewide. But she added “in the grand scheme of things,” the overall shortage statewide only represented “a small number.” Overall, the state is aiming to have some 30,000 poll workers for next month’s election.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” she said. “I still think we need to do what we can to help support those small communities that don’t have a lot of options and places to turn to in terms of filling those needs.”

One week ahead of the state’s April election, the first to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, local clerks indicated the shortage of poll workers was so severe that 111 communities wouldn’t even staff one polling site. Another 126 said they were unable to open all of the polling locations they’d like. The overall shortage reported by clerks on March 31 was nearly 7,000 poll workers.

Gov. Tony Evers ultimately deployed the National Guard ahead of that election to staff polling sites, largely alleviating the problem. But information on that deployment came too late for some municipalities such as Milwaukee, which opted ahead of the announcement to consolidate from 180 polling places down to five to keep those locations fully staffed.

Evers also deployed the National Guard to bolster polling sites ahead of the statewide August election and a special election in the 7th CD in May.

The guv indicated during a Department of Health Service briefing this afternoon the National Guard would be available for communities still experiencing poll worker shortages in November.

“The National Guard will be there to make sure we have enough people working at the polls,” Evers said.

Wolfe said the 51 municipalities she highlighted identified either a “serious” or “critical” shortage of poll workers.

A “serious” shortage means a community will be able to open all of its polling locations but will lack the personnel to run Election Day operations as planned. A “critical” shortage, she said, means a jurisdiction does not have enough staff to open all polling locations in accordance with state law.

Wolfe said most communities reporting shortages were small, rural townships or villages. In those jurisdictions, Wolfe said, a shortage of one or two poll workers could result in “a pretty significant need for that community.”

Wolfe said some larger jurisdictions have already completed recruitment for poll workers as well as backups in the case of emergency. But she said Green Bay, the state’s third-largest city, is facing a shortage of 30 poll workers. That’s the largest shortage in the state, according to figures reported back by local clerks so far.

Other large shortages include 15 in Menomonie in Dunn County and 10 in Antigo in Langlade County.

See information on poll worker shortages on the MyVote site.

See the briefing here.

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