By TODD RICHMOND
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 Tuesday’s election.
Local election clerks across the state say poll workers are quitting in droves because they fear contracting the coronavirus during the election, which also features a state Supreme Court race and hundreds of local races. More than 100 municipalities have reported they don’t have enough people to staff even one polling site.
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 decide how many soldiers will be needed and how to train them. Trovato said the soldiers will be from the same county as the site they work, in line with a state residency law for poll workers.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said he was grateful for the help. About half of the county’s poll workers have dropped out and more are expected to withdraw before Tuesday. He said the soldiers should enable him to keep polling sites open and that he hopes they can help count absentee ballots. Requests for absentee ballots have been breaking records daily; As of Wednesday morning, clerks had received more than a million requests, according to the state elections commission.
Evers submitted the brief Tuesday as U.S. District Judge William Conley considered three lawsuits seeking to postpone the election. Conley was scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday afternoon.
Wisconsin residents are under Evers’ stay-at-home order that prohibits nonessential activities to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Democratic National Committee, the state Democratic Party and other liberal-leaning groups argued in lawsuits filed last month that in-person voting should be postponed until after that order expires on April 24.
In a written statement Wednesday, Sanders said: “People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote.”
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.
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.