Case surge in key bat­tle­ground states a worry as Elec­tion Day inches closer

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page -

MADI­SON, Wis. — Ris­ing coron­avirus cases in key pres­i­den­tial bat­tle­ground states a lit­tle more than two weeks be­fore Elec­tion Day are the lat­est worry for elec­tion of­fi­cials and vot­ers fear­ing chaos or ex­po­sure to the virus at polling places de­spite months of plan­ning.

The prospect of poll work­ers back­ing out at the last minute be­cause they are in­fected, quar­an­tined or scared of get­ting sick has lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials in Mid­west states such as Iowa and Wis­con­sin open­ing more early vot­ing lo­ca­tions, re­cruit­ing backup work­ers and en­cour­ag­ing vot­ers to plan for long lines and other in­con­ve­niences.

Con­firmed virus cases and deaths are on the rise in the swing states of 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 to han­dle COVID- 19 pa­tients. Gov. Tony Evers said he plans to ac­ti­vate the Wis­con­sin Na­tional Guard to fill any staffing short­ages at elec­tion sites.

While hold­ing a com­pet­i­tive pres­i­den­tial elec­tion dur­ing a pan­demic is “tricky 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 vot­ing sites in and around Daven­port, the state’s third- largest city, to try to re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple cast­ing bal­lots on Elec­tion Day and to keep the virus from spread­ing in large precincts.

“We have to re­mem­ber that there is this thing called COVID,”

Ms. Moritz said. “Our num­bers aren’t get­ting any bet­ter. The more peo­ple Ican get to early vote, the bet­ter.”

The pan­demic’s re­cent tra­jec­tory close to home has some vot­ers re­con­sid-er­ing a life­time habit of en-ter­ing a vot­ing booth on Elec­tion Day.

Tim Tomp­kins, a weld­ing en­gi­neer in Iowa, took the­day off work to cast an early bal­lot at the Bet­ten­dorf Com-mu­nity Cen­ter. Mr. Tomp-kins, 62, said he and his wife, Pat, were afraid of coro­n­avi-rus ex­po­sure in Elec­tion Day crowds but were deter-mined to vote, so they brought their own san­i­tizer to the com­mu­nity cen­ter Fri-day.

“We’d go through a vat of boil­ing COVID to get the cur­rent pres­i­dent out of of-fice,” Mr. Tomp­kins said.

In some states, vot­ing early still has car­ried health risks. Vot­ers in Ge­or­gia, Texas and else-where en­coun­tered hours long lines that re-quired con­gre­gat­ing with hun­dreds of other peo­ple this week. In Ge­or­gia, nearly a quar­ter of the­work­ers in a ware­house where Fulton County’s elec­tion sup­plies are kept and vot­ing equip­ment is read­ied tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19.

The pos­i­tive test re­sults for 13 of the prepa­ra­tion cen­ter’s 60 work­ers shouldn’t de­lay elec­tion op-er­a­tions, county elec­tions di­rec­tor Rick Bar­ron said. Ge­or­gia’s most pop­u­lous county is work­ing to hire re­place­ment staff and to im­ple­ment ad­di­tional safety mea­sures, in­clud­ing daily rapid test­ing.

Vot­ers in sev­eral Mid-west states con­tested by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his Demo­cratic chal-lenger, for­mer Vice Presi-dent Joe Bi­den, en­coun-tered lines when they wentto cast early bal­lots on Fri-day. Some de­scribed thede­ci­sion to vote this year asone that re­quired de­lib­era-tion and even courage.

Robert Baccus, 52, an in-de­pen­dent con­trac­tor from Colum­bus, Ohio, was among hun­dreds in line atthe Franklin County Boardof Elec­tions early vot­ing cen-ter. He said he doesn’t trust vot­ing by mail, so early vot-ing was his best op­tion for­cast­ing a bal­lot while try­ing to safe­guard his health.

“It’s a choice be­tween life and death, re­ally,” said Mr. Baccus, a sup­porter of Mr. Bi­den. “We could not do it and our votes won’t be counted. It’s a choice I’ve got to make for my chil-dren and grand­chil­dren.”

At some polling places, work­ers wore masks, gloves and face shields. Lines and vot­ing sta­tions were set up 6 feet apart, andthe sta­tions and pens were san­i­tized be­tween users.

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