MILWAUKEE — Susan Crape reported for duty in August as chief election inspector at Barack Obama School on Milwaukee's North Side. Gone were the poll workers she'd come to expect. In their place, she found a crew of mostly newbies, much younger than the usual team. One was just 17 — and she'd convinced her mother to work, too.

The strangers became fast friends as they greeted voters and processed ballots for the partisan primary election. All signed up to work again in next month’s general election, when turnout will dwarf what it was in August.

“You do feel like you’re contributing to democracy,” said Susan Callanan, who plans to be on duty alongside her daughter and husband. “It’s so fundamental.”

With the nation’s eyes on Wisconsin — its coveted 10 electoral votes could again determine the outcome of the presidential race — municipalities across the state are finding themselves in a surprising position ahead of Nov. 3. Rather than struggling with too few poll workers, which hampered the presidential primary election early in the pandemic, some locations have been overwhelmed with volunteers.

Nearly all of the 1,200 people who staffed Milwaukee polling locations in August will return in November. They’ll be joined by a few thousand more, most of them new to the process.

“They’re stepping up to fill the role that grandma might ordinarily fill,” said Maribeth Witzel-Behl, city clerk in Madison. The capital city, a liberal bastion, was so inundated by September that it had to cut off applications at 6,000. Typically, about 3,000 people work the polls in a fall general election.

Witzel-Behl noted that some major employers give employees a day off for helping at the polls. But so, too, do local businesses such as Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, a beloved neighborhood pizzeria.

At this point, Madison not only can staff all its polling locations but will give workers the option of shorter shifts to keep everyone fresh. It’s also going to have “rapid response” teams ready to deploy to sites where lines of in-person voters are forming or where piles of absentee ballots need counting.

Statewide, the full Election Day staffing picture isn’t yet clear, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The commission is formally surveying clerks this week about their poll worker situation and, if needed, will ask for National Guard support at the polls. Clerks responding to a reporter’s informal survey of blue, red, urban and rural locations repeated the same assessment: We’re good.

The continuing reports of hyper-democracy breaking out in many places is encouraging. “It’s a realization that our election system is really powered by average citizens,” Magney said.

Yet Wisconsin’s status as a hot spot for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could still cast a shadow over even the most robustly staffed municipalities. Milwaukee, the largest municipality, has built a 20 percent no-show rate into its Nov. 3 needs. In smaller places with less cushion, the concerns remain acute.

Deborah Neuser is city clerk in Manitowoc, a small city near Green Bay. And she is worried. “My greatest fear is the possibility that myself as clerk or another member of our election team contracts covid,” she said, “leaving possibly no one to administer the election.”

Civic pride and civil rights are propelling many to step up, responding to election officials’ requests via social media or through employers and nonprofit organizations. They aren’t cavalier about the health risks but say something critical is at stake.

“It was the sense that it was an important thing that needed to be done, to go out and help our country,” said Dori Frankel Steigman, who drove in from her lakeside suburb of Shorewood to assist at Obama School in August. She specifically requested an assignment in the city, where filling spots tends to be harder. “Shorewood can take care of itself,” she said.

Before then, Steigman had never thought of working the polls. That changed in April, when state Republicans forced Wisconsin to go through with its presidential primary and a hotly contested state Supreme Court race despite the surge of the coronavirus. By contrast, most other states postponed their in-person balloting.

As the list of available workers hemorrhaged, Milwaukee had to collapse its polling sites from the usual 180 to just five. The voting lines that resulted stretched up to 10 blocks long. Similar desperation hit the suburb of Hales Corners, which typically has 36 people working the polls for general elections. All but three of its regular election inspectors withdrew.

“We all saw the stories in April and decided that can’t happen again,” Steigman said.

Milwaukee had 3,900 poll workers signed up as of Friday, with about 100 new applicants coming in daily, said Jonathan Zuniga, deputy director of the local Election Commission. The city’s central role in April’s voting seems to have made it a particularly strong draw, especially for people in the surrounding suburbs.

Tom Penn is ready. He retired recently from a career in research and development for a medical device company. His first polling assignment came a few months later, when he stood watch at Riverside University High School.

He’ll be back the first Tuesday of November.

“The stakes are high, and elections are being threatened,” he said. “We need people to do this.”