Jeramey Jannene

City Poised for Record Turnout in Primary

More absentee ballots requested than the total vote in any fall primary in two decades.

By - Aug 10th, 2020 06:38 pm
An absentee ballot. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

An absentee ballot. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Tuesday’s partisan primary election could see record numbers of Milwaukeeans vote, with most coming via absentee ballot.

The traditionally lower turnout election has already drawn over 75,000 absentee ballot requests, a total that alone eclipses all of the ballots cast in each of the Presidential-election fall primaries since 2000.

And as of mid-day Thursday, 3,269 Milwaukeeans had voted early via in-person absentee voting. Early voting ran through Sunday afternoon at multiple sites around the city. “Definitely a record for August,” said election commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg in a press briefing Thursday.

Those who wish to vote in person will have an easier time doing so in this election than they did in the spring. The Milwaukee Election Commission is poised to operate 168 polling sites, up from five large sites in the April 7th election. “When you go to your polling place, you shouldn’t expect long lines,” said Woodall-Vogg. Dozens of voters in April told Urban Milwaukee they waited over two hours to vote.

Each of the polling sites will have plexiglass barriers to separate poll workers from voters. It’s one of the many ways the city is spending a $2.4 million federal grant intended to bolster election safety. Milwaukee is one of many cities in the state that received a grant to bolster election safety and security. Pollworker pay was boosted by $100 to $230 for a full-day shift through the grant.

But strong turnout for a partisan primary shouldn’t be used as a direct barometer for how things might go in November, when the race for President will draw a huge surge of interest.

The 24,505 ballots cast in the 2008 partisan primary were far short of the 275,042 cast in the general election. In 2016 primary turnout grew over two-fold to 59,541, but general election turnout fell by 27,206 to 247,836. Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes.

In 2012, 58,031 Milwaukeeans voted in the primary and 288,459 in the general election.

To exceed vote totals in the prior elections, the absentee ballots will need to be returned and correctly filled out. As of mid-day Thursday less than half had been returned, but a steady stream of people could be spotted using the city’s drop boxes at multiple libraries this weekend.

Voters have until the close of polls to deliver their ballot to a drop site, including their polling place, or to vote in person. Voters that mailed the ballot back can see its progress through the My Vote WI site and the smart barcode system implemented this election in partnership with the United States Postal Service.

What’s driving the surge in turnout? The COVID-19 pandemic could have something to do with it. Voters who had already requested an absentee ballot and provided the necessary identification digitally only had to click a few keys to get a ballot for the next election.

A new city program could also be boosting turnout. The city mailed every registered voter an absentee ballot request card. Voters still were required to supply the necessary photo identification if they were voting absentee for the first time at their current address. Modeled on a similar initiative that took place in Whitefish Bay in April, the SafeVote program was created by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and the election commission.

How many people could vote in person on August 11th? Approximately 18,800 people voted in person in the April 7th election which featured confusion on the election timeline and voting sites, but did feature a high-profile Wisconsin Supreme Court race. Tuesday’s election features substantially less confusion, but lacks a big-ticket draw.

For a complete rundown of all the candidates on the ballot, see our candidate guide.

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Categories: Politics

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