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Early voting shattered, Wisconsin polls open amid pandemic

Madison, Wis. poll worker Wade DallaGrana assists a voter with their ballot while tending to a drive-up balloting station outside City-County Building Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Madison, Wis. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

By SCOTT BAUER and STEVE MEGARGEE Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — After shattering early voting records, Wisconsin voters had a final chance Tuesday to cast ballots in schools, libraries, churches and community buildings, even as coronavirus cases surged and political tensions were high in the battleground state.

Both sides were closely watching absentee and in-person voting for any irregularities that could make the difference. Election officials warned that the time needed to process absentee ballots could leave some results unknown into Wednesday, and they urged people to be patient.

“If unofficial results don’t come in until early the next morning, it doesn’t mean something went wrong,” Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s top elections official, cautioned last week. “It means election officials are doing their jobs and making sure every legitimate ballot gets counted.”

President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes four years ago. Joe Biden sought to put the state back in the Democratic column, where it was for a generation before 2016.

In the week leading up to the election, both Biden and Trump campaigned in parts of Wisconsin where their base is strong. Polls showed there were few undecided voters, making turning out the vote all the more vital for both sides.

The coronavirus pandemic motivated nearly 1.9 million voters to mail in their ballots or vote in person before Election Day, far surpassing the early voting turnout in previous presidential elections. Early voting constituted roughly two-thirds of the total votes cast in 2016, and the large numbers set up the possibility that polling places would be less congested on Tuesday.

Still, election officials prepared for long lines, especially as precautions against the coronavirus meant voters would be asked to keep a 6-foot distance between one another. Wisconsin has seen a steady rise in virus cases since September, breaking records for new cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the days leading up to the election.

About 400 members of the Wisconsin National Guard were activated to work at polls across the state due to worker shortages. That’s far fewer than the 2,400 who helped with the April presidential primary.

About 2,400 polling places were to be open statewide, with no significant closures like those seen during the presidential primary in April. In that election, Milwaukee opened just five of its nearly 190 polling sites due in part to a shortage of workers.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at http://apnews.com/Election2020