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Tony Evers activates National Guard to assist as poll workers for next week’s primary

Governor Tony Evers gives his first State of the State address in Madison, Wisconsin, at the State Capitol building on Jan. 22, 2019. He addressed a joint meeting of the Assembly and the Senate.

Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday activated the Wisconsin National Guard to assist as poll workers in Tuesday’s primary — marking the second time this year the Guard has been called on to assist with an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evers said a “yet-to-be determined” number of Guard members will mobilize to state active duty to support the Wisconsin Elections Commission and municipal clerks across the state with the upcoming election.

Guard members will report on Monday to municipal clerks to assist with polling place setup and to work as traditional poll workers. Guard members assisting with the state’s COVID-19 response will not be diverted to support polling places.

“The Wisconsin National Guard has played a critical role in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and this mission is no different,” Evers said in a statement. “Time and time again the Guard has stepped up to help their neighbors, friends, and communities, as they will be doing on election day by helping to ensure that every Wisconsinite can vote safely without fear for their health.”

On Tuesday, Meagan Wolfe, the state’s chief elections official, said more than 900 poll workers were still needed to properly administer the August election.

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The governor’s office has said nearly 1,000 National Guard members may be needed to assist in the statewide Aug. 11 primary. Guard members must reside within the county that they serve as a poll worker.

“We’re working in close collaboration and partnership with the Wisconsin Elections Commission to anticipate needs in each county,” Brig. Gen. Robyn Blader, Wisconsin’s assistant adjutant for readiness and training and the Guard’s liaison with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in a statement. “As Citizen Soldiers and Airmen, we’re honored to fulfill this role and to help our state during a time of need.”

In the April 7 election, more than 2,400 Wisconsin National Guard members served as poll workers in 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties under the public health emergency Evers declared this spring.

Facing pressure from governors across the country, President Donald Trump on Monday extended the National Guard’s coronavirus response mission through the remainder of the year but will only cover up to 75% of its costs for most states, including Wisconsin, beginning Aug. 21.

Evers estimated it will cost about $4 million to maintain the Guard’s COVID-19 response efforts after the federal government stops covering all the costs.

In July, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Mason, sent a joint letter to Trump requesting that 100% federal funding for National Guard operations be extended through the end of the year.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not sign the letter. His office did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

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© 2020 The Wisconsin State Journal