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Mail-In Ballot Requests For August Election Already Top 2016 Partisan Primary Turnout In Wisconsin

Partisan Primary Interest Could Be Early Sign Of Strong November Turnout

Hand fills out a ballot
Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

The number of mail-in ballots requested for Wisconsin’s August partisan primary has already surpassed the total number of votes cast in 2016’s August primary election.

There have been 743,908 mail-in ballots requested statewide as of Tuesday morning, according to the state Elections Commission. There were 645,619 total ballots cast in the 2016 August partisan primary, also according to commission statistics.

Voters in Milwaukee, Dane and Waukesha counties have made the most mail-in ballot requests.

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The Aug. 11 election will determine who will make it onto November’s general election ballot for a number of state Assembly and Senate races. There are also primaries in five of Wisconsin’s eight Congressional districts.

David Canon, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it remains unclear whether the uptick in ballot requests for August’s primary could mean increased voter turnout for November’s general election as well.

“It’s hard to say for sure what’s going to happen because of the pandemic,” Canon said. “I think if this were a regular presidential election, without the pandemic, I would be pretty sure we would have record turnout (in November).”

However, Canon noted there have been a few signs Wisconsin may be on track for high turnout this fall. In addition to the strong early numbers for August, voter turnout for April’s presidential primary election was strong, exceeding turnout numbers for presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012, though not 2016.

“You clearly have a lot of voter interest in this (presidential) election and the big question just is, ‘Will the pandemic interfere with that?’” Canon said.

The high number of mail-in absentee ballot requests for August represents a shift in voting behavior already seen in 2020, as Wisconsin voters navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

The April presidential primary election saw a record number of mail-in ballots — the most ever cast in a Wisconsin election, according to the Elections Commission. Of the roughly 1.6 million ballots cast, about 62 percent were mail-in absentee ballots, the commission said in May.

However, postal service delays and confusion about postmarks created problems for many voters looking to avoid in-person voting during the pandemic.

According to the Elections Commission, about 79,000 ballots arrived at clerks’ offices in the six-day extension period after election day in April. A federal judge granted the extension in response to the pandemic and mail delays. No such extension is in place for the August election.

Because of that, the deadline for returning ballots has shifted back to its regular time frame: 8 p.m. on election day.

Wednesday is the last day Wisconsin residents can go online to register to vote ahead of the Aug. 11 primary. In-person voter registration at local clerks’ offices is available through election day. Registered voters have until Aug. 6 to request a mail-in ballot.

Highly-contested primaries in the August election include the 26th Senate District, where seven Democrats are vying for the general election slot in the race to replace retiring Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who has been in the Senate since 1962. There are also seven Democrats running to replace Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, in the 76th Assembly District. There are five Republicans on the ballot in the 28th Senate District, where Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, isn’t seeking re-election.

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