Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Perfect Storm? Early voting in Madison suggests 50% turnout Tuesday

Atlantic Hurricane

I leave town Friday, so today on my lunch hour I went to the City of Madison Clerk's office to vote early.  I may never vote at my precinct's polling station again.  In and out in two minutes. Just give your name, and the clerk looks you up on her computer and quickly prints an ID stamp to go on the envelope that is used to deliver your ballot to the precinct on election day.  Only drawback?  No "I voted" stickers.  So voting couldn't be easier, and it is a shame the GOP will be trying their best to make it harder in the next few months.

I asked the lady who helped me how the early voting was going.  She said that the City Clerk's office had already taken in over 2,000 early ballots, which is more early ballots at this stage of the race than were cast in the February 2008 presidential preference election (principally split between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, and John McCain and Mike Huckabee for the GOP).  The Wisconsin GAB reports on that primary show 165,959 votes for both parties' candidates, which was 50% of the 332,221 registered voters in Dane County in 2008.  If 50% of the voters in Dane County turn out on Tuesday, and if the vote totals statewide are in the usual range of 800,000 to 830,000 voters for a Spring judicial election, Dane County could be twenty percent of the state-wide vote total.

On the way back from the Clerk's office, ran into a lawyer friend who is far more in the know about state politics than I, and his take was that Justice Prosser was still going to squeeze by on Tuesday.  If so, that will still be a pretty remarkable result, given that as an incumbent, running against a virtually unknown Assistant Attorney General, Justice Prosser should have been on a cakewalk.

Craig Gilbert, political reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, discussed in an article yesterday the likelihood that highly contested down-ballot races in Dane County (Soglin vs. Cieslewicz and Parisi vs. Bruskewitz) and Milwaukee County (Stone vs. Abele for County Exec.) will generate much greater than normal Spring turnout in those two counties.  Among the more interesting points he made was the relationship between Milwaukee County turnout in Spring Supreme Court elections when the Milwaukee County Executive position is on the ballot:
As a case study in how circumstance and timing can dictate an election, it’s hard to top the April 5 Supreme Court contest in Wisconsin.
In the case of Milwaukee County, history suggests that county executive races have a dramatic impact on the size of the Supreme Court vote.  The chart below shows the huge variation in total votes cast from Milwaukee County in recent Supreme Court contests. 

The lowest bars coincide with uncontested court races. The two big spikes are 2000 and 2008, when a race for Milwaukee county executive coincided with a state Supreme Court race. The county generated an average of roughly 165,000 votes for state Supreme Court in those two years.  In the other contested court races when there was no county executive race (2009, 2007, 2003), Milwaukee County generated an average of 93,000 votes for Supreme Court. 
It’s the difference between Milwaukee County accounting for 11 or 12 percent of the statewide court vote when there’s no county executive contest, and for 20% of the statewide vote when there is one.
I discussed earlier how much ground Joanne Kloppenburg needs to make up based on the February primary.  Tuesday may be brewing as a perfect storm for a highly competitive Supreme Court race.

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