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Wisconsin voters head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in 2022 primary race

Education, public safety, inflation were on the mind of voters at the polls

A man wears a hat with a U.S. flag pattern and writes with a pen with a flag attached as he votes at a booth with a flag decoration.
Kevin Griffith fills out a ballot Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at the Village of Waukesha Municipal Complex. Angela Major/WPR

Voters across the state headed to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for several statewide primary races. But the main race on many voters minds was the hotly contested Republican primary for Wisconsin governor.

It’s a race that has caught national headlines, as former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence each endorsed different candidates.

Trump endorsed construction executive Tim Michels over Rebecca Kleefisch, who was endorsed by Pence. Kleefisch, the lieutenant governor under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker for eight years, has also seen support from Walker on the campaign trail.

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Ellen Greer, a Democrat from Brookfield, arrived at the polls bright and early Tuesday morning to cast her vote in that race. Tuesday was the first time she’s voted for a Republican candidate in 30 years.

“I came out today to vote against any candidate that Trump is supporting,” Greer said. “I’m a solid Democrat, so I had to hold my nose and vote today, but I feel that strongly.”

A woman stands at a table as she prepares to vote.
Xue Ping shows a poll worker her identification card before voting Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at the Brookfield Conference Center in Brookfield, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

“And I don’t like that strategy, but what are you going to do,” she added.

When asked if she agreed with any of Kleefisch’s policies, her answer was simple: “No.”

Tuesday’s winner will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November in a race that public polling and recent Wisconsin history suggest will be close.

Clinton Culpitt, a Sparta resident, said inflation and border control were issues on his mind when he went to vote Tuesday. He also said he’d like to see a new governor who unites the state.

“Somebody that’s going to make some changes to the state of Wisconsin, to get people together a little bit more,” Culpitt said about his hopes.

Four people lean forward as they vote in booths.
Max Sommerfeld votes Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at the Brookfield Conference Center in Brookfield, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Tammy Barnes, who is also a Sparta resident, said the economy and public safety were two important issues she’s paying attention to.

“I would like to see the police more supported in their actions and the ones that are not good police officers be reprimanded,” Barnes said Tuesday.

Kleefisch has received several law enforcement endorsements, which include the Fraternal Order of Police, the Milwaukee Police Association and the Kenosha Professional Police Association Board. She has said she’ll put 1,000 more police officers on the streets and reform what she said is a broken bail system.

Michels said he plans to “create new mandatory minimum penalties for felons possessing guns” and “beef up” the court system to allow for quicker trials, according to his “Back The Blue-print.” He also plans to put “50 percent more police in our most dangerous neighborhoods in one year,” according to the plan.

A man places his ballot into the counting machine.
Ryan Bedford puts a ballot into a machine while voting Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, at the Village of Waukesha Municipal Complex. Angela Major/WPR

When asked what issues were important to her, Liz Ramos of Waukesha said “everything.”

“We came out to vote because we want to vote Republican. We’re tired of the Democrats and the bulls— that they’re doing,” Ramos said.

“So, we wanted change,” she added.

Clerks in Waukesha and neighboring Washington County called voter turnout Tuesday “steady.” Both counties have historically been strong holds of the Wisconsin GOP. In the afternoon, Washington County Clerk Ashley Reichert thought voter turnout could be on track to reach 40% there, which she said would be high for a midterm primary. Fewer absentee ballots were returned in Waukesha County compared to other recent elections, according to County Clerk Meg Wartman. She said absentee numbers seemed to be on par with pre-pandemic levels and she expected that drop to be balanced out by an increase in in-person voting.

Voters also cast ballots for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Tuesday. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is expected to win that race, after Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry and Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski all dropped out of the race before Tuesday. He would face Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Public Radio’s Hope Kirwan contributed to this report.