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Unvaccinated Madison poll workers can work elections with negative COVID-19 test

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Madison city officials have reversed course after initially telling potential poll workers that they would need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to work at city polling places.

The City Clerk’s Office also said in a statement that an audit of election-related documents by members of the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was completed last Thursday. The audit, which took about eight hours to complete, was demanded by Senate Republicans after the city had initially denied auditors direct access to documents from the 2020 election.

Under new guidance, unvaccinated poll workers in Madison will be able to work in upcoming elections if they submit a negative COVID test within three days of an election, according to a letter sent to potential poll workers on Monday. Rapid test results will not be accepted, per city policy.

In the letter, city officials said the new accommodations are meant for individuals who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons or those who request religious accommodations.

The City Clerk’s Office last week said poll workers would be considered city employees and would be required to be vaccinated. The policy quickly drew criticism from some state Republicans for imposing new requirements just weeks before a Nov. 30 deadline for county party officials to submit poll worker names ahead of the 2022 election.

“While we are glad our pressure has led to changes, legal requirements for election observers are laid out in the statutes and adding new requirements at the local level violates state election laws,” GOP chair Paul Farrow said in a statement Tuesday. “Attempting to change the rules right before the deadline for signups is a suppression trick meant to restrict qualified individuals from serving.”

Audit update

With regard to the audit, officials with the Audit Bureau were given access to city election records one at a time last week. Madison was one of just a handful of municipalities in the state that didn’t hand over election-related materials to the Audit Bureau for it’s examination of the 2020 election.

“The Clerk’s Office was pleased to support this examination in concert with the policy we had in place to preserve the chain of custody and election integrity,” the city said in a statement.

Election officials in Milwaukee County, along with the Oconto County town of Little Suamico, also did not provide the Audit Bureau with access to actual ballots, citing guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice reminding clerks of their obligation to retain and preserve election records.

Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told state auditors in August they would be allowed to review election documents and had set up a viewing station for them to do so. The clerk’s office did not receive a response, and the audit report didn’t mention the viewing protocols offered to them, Witzel-Behl later said.

Election probes

The Senate has launched its own investigation into the 2020 election, with a primary focus on the Audit Bureau’s report, which did not find any evidence of widespread fraud or abuse in the state’s 2020 election but did make 48 recommendations to the Legislature and commission for improvements to how elections are run.

“The Senate subpoena successfully compelled the City of Madison to grant auditors access to the records originally requested,” Adam Gibbs, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said in an email. “We look forward to reviewing LAB’s final report which will now include election records from Madison.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, earlier this year hired former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, a Republican, to investigate how the election was conducted, primarily in the state’s five largest cities.

A recount and court decisions have affirmed that President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes. Four voters out of roughly 3 million who cast ballots have been charged with fraud.

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