The August primary election is in the books and by most accounts here in Racine County the vote went pretty well.
That was due in part to the help of new poll workers who stepped up and volunteered their time to work the polls on Election Day after COVID-19 risks compelled some previous poll workers — many of them seniors and at heightened health risk — to stop offering their services.
That shortage resulted in Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers calling on the National Guard to help out, as they had done in the spring election.
In Caledonia and in Mount Pleasant, the troops were not needed as new poll workers volunteered. Caledonia Village Clerk Karie Pope said the village had been expecting to get help from the National Guard, but received an “overwhelming slew of applications to be poll workers” from people who had never done it before. She was busy training a dozen new workers the week before the election.
To them, we can only say, “Kudos, and thanks.”
Yes, there are additional precautions at the polls these days — social distancing, hand sanitizers and Plexiglas dividers to minimize the risks of spreading the coronavirus. But that still means workers are often at the polls for up to 14 hours as lines of voters pass through.
And we don’t kid ourselves that the recent primary, with only a handful of races on the ballot, is comparable to the turnout that will surely come in November with the presidential contest and a slew of other hotly contested races up and down the ballot.
That will be a challenge for voters and poll workers alike. If the recent primary is any example, many of the ballots will come in by mail. Leading up to last Tuesday, more than 900,000 state voters had requested absentee ballots and more than half of them had been returned the week before the primary. That’s more than eight times the number of absentee ballots requested in 2018.
If that pattern repeats on Nov. 3 — and we believe it will — it will pose new demands on clerks, the U.S. Postal Service and the flock of new poll workers to get the votes checked and counted, and to get it right. Yes, it may again take the National Guard to help out.
To the new poll workers, we say thank you for taking on the risk of working long hours for relatively low pay to make sure each vote gets counted in a fair and timely way. Good luck in November, when the work will be especially difficult.