Six statewide votes brought us to Tuesday
Tuesday will be the seventh statewide election in 22 months in Wisconsin—a record that weary local election clerks and state officials hope is never broken.
More than 7.6 million votes were cast between the Feb. 15, 2011, spring primary and the Aug. 12, 2012, primary election that picked Tuesday’s candidates.
Up to 3 million more Wisconsin votes may be cast in Tuesday’s voting for president, a U.S. Senate seat, the state’s eight U.S. House members and seats in the Legislature.
And that 7.6-million vote total doesn’t count the 13 state Senate recall elections—a national record—during the last two years that targeted 10 Republicans and three Democrats. Those recalls cost three of the 10 Republican senators their jobs, giving Democrats control of the Senate.
It has been the most volatile 22 months in Wisconsin’s political history, so a review helps answer this question: What were the elections, and who were the winners and losers, that brought us to Tuesday?
--Feb. 15, 2011: 420,110 votes cast in the primary for the spring election for one of seven seats on the state Supreme Court. The vote came only days after Republican Gov. Scott Walker introduced Act 10, which all but eliminated collective bargaining by public employees except firefighters and police officers.
Although incumbent Justice David Prosser got 54.9 percent of the Feb. 15 vote, anti-Walker forces picked state Justice Department lawyer Joanne Kloppenburg to run against Prosser in April. Prosser mentored Walker when both served in the state Assembly in the 1990s.
--April 5, 2011: 1.5 million votes cast in the Prosser-Kloppenburg faceoff that became a referendum on Walker’s attack on public employee unions. It took weeks and the first recount of a Supreme Court election in Wisconsin’s history to decide, but Prosser kept his job with 50.1 percent of the vote—a winning margin of only 7,004 votes.
--April 3, 2012: 1.08 million votes cast in the spring presidential primary. In the Republican primary, former Gov. Mitt Romney won with 44 percent of the vote, beating former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who got 36.8 percent. President Barack Obama got 98 percent of the Democratic primary vote.
--May 8, 2012: 1.31 million votes cast in the primary to pick Democrats in the recall elections against Walker and Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett got 58 percent of the vote for governor, easily defeating ex-Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Secretary of State Doug La Follette.
--June 5, 2012: 2.51 million votes cast in the first vote to recall a governor and lieutenant governor in Wisconsin history. Walker and Kleefisch, who beat Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell, both got 53 percent of the vote. Walker is the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall vote.
--Aug. 14, 2012: 768,302 votes cast in the fall primary to pick candidates in Tuesday’s election. Four-term former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson wins the Republican primary with 33.9 percent of the GOP vote. He beat ex-hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, former Congressman Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board that administers elections, said the demands on the 30-employee agency have been “extraordinary.”
Not only did GAB have to oversee six statewide votes and 13 Senate recalls, Kennedy noted, but it also had to implement changes in voter registration laws—including an on-again, off-again requirement that voters must show a photo ID—and review more than 1 million signatures on recall-Walker petitions.
But the demands on local clerks who run elections were “incredible,” Kennedy added. “They had no funding to draw on [and] 62 percent of those folks are part time. It’s not their day job.”
GAB and local clerks also had to implement new boundary lines for U.S. House and legislative districts.
There is disagreement on whether voters are weary of so many statewide elections.
Kennedy said voters were glad recall fever broke on June 5 and they are excited about being able to elect the next president.
But Joe Heim, a UW-La Crosse political science professor, disagreed: “I do sense that there is less enthusiasm at this point. Many are saying they just want this (election) over ASAP and want to get on with a normal life.”
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email email@example.com.