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Wisconsin's presidential primary and spring general election is April 2, 2024. Here's a guide on Milwaukee-area candidates and information on how to vote.

With the race pretty much decided, what role does Wisconsin's presidential primary play?

a hand putting a piece of paper into a box
Ahead of of Wisconsin's presidential preference primary, WisPolitic's JR Ross shares an overview.

The upcoming April 2 election in Wisconsin will be an important one. It's a nonpartisan spring election with local offices on the ballot across the state. In Milwaukee and the southeast area, there are elections for mayor, circuit court judges, city and county boards — to name a few.

But the election will also serve as Wisconsin's presidential preference primary. Ahead of it, JR Ross, editor of WisPoliticsshares an overview.

The following are excerpts from that interview, some portions edited, paraphrased or consolidated for clarity.

How does the presidential preference primary work in Wisconsin?

Ross: In Wisconsin, we have an open primary system, where you can vote either in the Democratic or Republican primary. You don't have to be registered as a partisan to do that. And you'll have your choice within those fields of who you want to vote for.

Now, the races are pretty much settled — Joe Biden and Donald Trump both secured enough delegates to win the party's nominations. What will happen here is both political parties have a formula for how the vote turns out — the number of delegates that those people get.

Why are there efforts for Democrats to vote 'uninstructed' and Republicans to vote for Nikki Haley?

Democrats have this option on the primary ballot called “uninstructed." It's been there for a long time. We've seen similar options in other states where people unhappy with Joe Biden's foreign policies, especially with the war between Israel and Hamas, have used that to express their discontent. That's something I'm watching to see is there a big groundswell of support for that option, which would be a rebuke for Joe Biden.

On the Republican side, Nikki Haley dropped out of the race, but we keep seeing states where she gets a good chunk of the vote in the primary, which suggests that there are people who are hardcore Republicans who are not happy with Donald Trump as their nominee. So, what does this look like in Wisconsin? Is there any discontent over Trump? That's something to watch April 2.

Who are the delegates, what do they do and what role do they play at the conventions?

They’re party activists who are bound to a candidate. This summer, the delegates will go to the convention in Milwaukee for Republicans and to Chicago for Democrats. The delegates will be on the floor of the convention hall when it becomes a roll call for Wisconsin votes.

So, let's just take the Democratic primary, for example. Joe Biden wins “X” percent of the vote in the primary April 2. He will get a number of delegates, according to the formula the party has for that. They all go to Chicago, bound to vote for Biden on the floor of the convention. Now, the "uninstructed" option, if it gets enough of a threshold and wins delegates, they would go and they would be able to cast their votes the way they want to. It's something to watch there.

And for the most part, there won't be a lot of drama because Biden and Donald Trump have secured enough delegates to have the nominations. Now, if there was somebody in an election that didn't have enough delegates to seek the nomination, then it'd be a fight in the floor for who would win the nomination, or if something happened to Biden or Trump between now in the summer, then you'd have different situation.

These conventions have become glorified political commercials. There used to be some drama years and years ago. But the race has been decided with these earlier primaries, and there's not a whole lot there — other than the parties trying to put on a four day show of unity to drive their message. They want to get to people about why they think they should be in the White House and those kinds of things. So, it's more of a pep rally for the base and a message vehicle for swing voters if they tune in. And let's be honest, how many people spend four nights in a row watching speeches hour after hours? Not a huge audience, but if you tune in like myself, you can pay attention to see what's going on.

Is there anything that you're looking for, in terms of statistics, on how people are voting in April that could be instructive of how people are going to vote in November?

It's just hard to say because it's so different. If you go back to 2020, well, we were in the early parts of a pandemic in 2020, right? So, it's a much different kind of race. Now, the parties do kind of use any election as dry runs to try out some new voter outreach. They might be doing phone banking to encourage you to try to turn out and stuff like that. But it's just, there's not a lot of juice around this presidential primary because the race is pretty much over.

Is there anything else that people could take away from this primary?

There's not a lot of energy around local races. It looks like Milwaukee mayor and Milwaukee County executive are in a really strong position to win reelection. We're not seeing heavy ad buys from both sides. It's pretty one sided. We don't see a lot of big local races in other communities that would drive turnouts and there's no statewide race for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

We're not expecting very high turnout for just the presidential primary, since the race has already been decided.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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