MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s governor said Wednesday that he will use National Guard soldiers to staff undermanned polling sites in next week’s presidential primary.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined others who have called for the state to postpone the election.
Local election clerks across the state say poll workers are quitting in droves out of fears of contracting the coronavirus during Tuesday’s election, which also features a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local races. More than 100 municipalities have reported they lack enough people to staff even one polling site.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers told a federal judge in a filing that he will use members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard to help as poll workers but that even that move likely won’t fill all staffing needs. The court filing said the Guard was determining how many soldiers it can make available in each county.
Guard spokesman Joe Trovato told The Associated Press in an email that commanders were working closely with election officials to determine how many soldiers will be needed and how to train them.
Evers submitted the brief Tuesday as U.S. District Judge William Conley considered three lawsuits seeking to postpone the election. The Democratic National Committee, the state Democratic Party and other liberal-leaning groups argue in the lawsuits that in-person voting should be postponed until after Evers’ stay-at-home order expires on April 24, voter ID requirements for absentee ballot applications be lifted and voters be given until June 2 to mail them in to clerks.
Conley hinted during a hearing Wednesday that he was looking at a number of options, including extending time for sending in absentee ballots and moving the election to May 12, the same day as a special election to replace retired U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy. Conley asked Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe whether there were so many problems that the election wouldn’t be meaningful.
“I never want to underestimate our local election officials,” Wolfe said. “(But) it will certainly be challenging.”
Conley did not say when he will rule.
Both Evers and Republican legislative leaders have wanted to keep the Tuesday date. Evers says postponement could leave countless local offices vacant. But the two sides have sparred over how to conduct the election, including whether to relax photo ID requirements to make the absentee voting process easier.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans, told reporters that they support using Guard soldiers at the polls.
“I think we are up to the task and it sounds like (the election is) going to get done,” Fitzgerald said.
Sanders issued a statement Wednesday saying, “People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote.”
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday shows 51% of respondents support delaying the election, while 44% say it should be held as scheduled.
Former Vice President Joe Biden opened a wide lead on Sanders in the Democratic presidential race. Biden had 62% support compared with 34% for Sanders, who won Wisconsin’s Democratic primary in 2016.
The poll of 813 registered Wisconsin voters was conducted between March 24 and Sunday. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.