MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Rising coronavirus cases in key presidential campaign states just over two weeks before election day are the latest concern for election officials and voters who fear chaos or exposure to the virus in polling stations despite months of planning.
The prospect of pollsters backing out at the last minute because they are infected, quarantined or afraid of getting sick, local election officials in Midwestern states like Iowa and Wisconsin have opened earlier polling stations, recruited aid workers and encouraged voters to plan long lines and other disadvantages.
Confirmed virus cases and deaths are on the rise in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Wisconsin broke records this week for new coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, leading to the opening of a field hospital for the treatment of COVID-1
While holding a competitive presidential election during a pandemic is “difficult business,” the governor said, “People are ready to have this election over, and I think it will be a successful election with very few hiccups.”
In Iowa, Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz opened additional early polling stations in and around Davenport, the state’s third largest city, to try to reduce the number of people who voted on election day and to prevent the virus from spreading in large areas.
“We need to remember that there is this thing called COVID,” Moritz said. “Our numbers are not getting better. The more people I can get to early voting, the better. ”
The recent path of the pandemic close to home has some voters considering a lifetime of getting into the voting booth on election day.
Tim Tompkins, a welding engineer in Iowa, took the day off work to cast an early vote at the Bettendorf Community Center. Tompkins, 62, said he and his wife, Pat, were afraid of coronavirus exposure in election day crowds, but decided to vote, so they brought their own disinfectant to the community center on Friday.
“We would go through a tub of boiling COVID to get the current president out of office,” Tompkins said.
In some states, voting still carries health risks. Voters in Georgia, Texas and elsewhere encountered hour-long lines demanding to rally with hundreds of other people this week. In Georgia, nearly a quarter of workers tested at a warehouse where Fulton County’s election supplies are stored and there is the ability to tune equipment, positive for COVID-19.
The positive test results for 13 of the Preparatory Center’s 60 staff should not delay election operations, said county election director Rick Barron. Barron said Georgia’s most populous county is working to hire replacement personnel and implement additional security measures, including daily rapid testing.
Voters in several Midwest states challenged by U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, came across lines as they went to the polls early Friday. Some described the decision to vote this year as one that required consideration and even courage.
Robert Baccus, 52, an independent entrepreneur from Columbus, Ohio, was among hundreds queuing at the Franklin County Board of Elections Center for early voting. He said he did not trust to vote by mail, so early voting was his best option to cast a vote while trying to protect his health.
“It really is a choice between life and death,” said Baccus, a supporter of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. “We could not do that and our votes are not counted. It is a choice I have to make for my children and grandchildren. ”
Vickie Howard-Penn, 50, a TSA worker from Columbus, said it was obvious Friday that the record-breaking virus cases Ohio reported this week had not deterred other voters.
“Did you see the lines? There are three lines trying to come up this way, ”Howard-Penn said outside the Franklin County election committee. She also planned to vote for Biden.
At some polling stations, workers wore masks, gloves and face shields. Lines and polling stations were set up six meters apart, and the stations and pens were disinfected between users.
But pollsters are not required to wear masks everywhere. In Kansas, the Secretary of State did not make masks mandatory at polling stations, which raised objections from some voters, especially the elderly.
Electoral officials in Wisconsin said state presidential elections provided lessons that guided current preparations.
Wisconsin held its presidential election primarily in the pandemic after democratic attempts to postpone the vote in April were thwarted. Voters waited in long queues in Milwaukee and elsewhere because a shortage of workers meant there were fewer polling stations.
Several election officials said they were confident they would have enough polling workers, sanitation supplies and protective equipment to ensure election day goes smoothly and safely. But they also urge voters to vote early if they can.
“Our clerks and communities have learned a lot since the April election,” said Waukesha County Clerk Meg Wartman. “Our community members, our voters, are much more confident about how they can be out (for sure) … I do not want people to be afraid to go to the polls because I think we are better prepared. “
Wisconsin voter Jon Gausewitz, 37, still plans to vote in person on election day. He said it could change if the virus situation worsens, where he lives outside Madison, the capital.
“I just keep an eye on the number and the prices and the admissions, that kind of thing, to see where we are,” Gausewitz said. “I still feel pretty confident about it.”
In Ohio, county electoral boards have put detailed plans in place to keep voters safe during a personal vote that began Oct. 6, said Aaron Ockerman, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Election Officials.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose updated a 61-point health and safety plan in late September that provides boards with detailed guidance on sanitation, use of personal protective equipment, social distance and other measures.
Anxiety among older voters in Ohio may have helped drive the huge turnout at an online AARP-sponsored town hall with the Secretary of State this week. More than 15,000 people called and peppered the election chief with technical questions about voting by mail.
As insurance, LaRose provided its personal email address to the participants and encouraged them to write with questions. Election officials prepare lists of reserve survey workers who are willing to be called at the last minute.
Electoral officials in Minnesota have recruited all 30,000 polling workers they believe are needed to run the state election. They have cross-trained several others, including county and city workers, as reserves if necessary, said Risk Adesaogun, a spokeswoman for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
Officials in the battlefield states reported no plans to close polling stations, though virus cases continue to rise.
“We would obviously try to open as many polling stations as possible,” said Nick Custodio, a deputy commissioner for the Philadelphia Electoral Office. “We do not want to close polling stations unless that is what is recommended.”
This story has been corrected to show the last name of a voter in Iowa is Tompkins, not Tomkins.
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback and Christina A. Cassidy of Atlanta; Ryan J. Foley of Iowa City, Iowa; Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; Geoff Mulvihill of Davenport, Iowa; Anna Nichols in Lansing, Michigan; David Pitt and Des Moines, Iowa; and Julie Carr Smyth of Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.