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Talking Turnout In Milwaukee's Spring Primary Elections

Maayan Silver
Wisconsin voters will decide Tuesday which candidates for many state and local races will move on to the general election in April.

Milwaukeeans are lining up at the polls for the spring primary on Tuesday. Voters will decide which candidates for many state and local races will move on to the general election in April.

About 60,000-70,000 voters are expected to turn out in the city of Milwaukee, according to the executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, Neil Albrecht. While turnout numbers will be much smaller than the nearly 300,000 voters the city projects for the presidential election in the fall, he says that's still significant for a February primary.

Zion James will be one of those voters — whether he likes it or not. The 18-year-old attends Bradley Tech High School, and explains that he was at city hall registering to vote for the first time because of his mom.

Would he have done it without her? "No!” he laughs.

His mom, Nicole James, says she’s always voted in presidential races but only now understands the importance of local elections.

“I feel like the people that I've come up around, we really just don't know," she says. "And when you don't know, you don't do anything about it. So now that I'm learning, I want to share that with people. I've also been sharing it on my Facebook page about who's running and why it's important that we get out here and vote, giving out names of people for people that really don't understand.”

Some of the races include primaries for state supreme court, Milwaukee mayor, Milwaukee County executive, and open seats on the county board and common council.

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Nicole James says she and her son are on top of it. 

"I’m just happy that my baby is 18 and can come out and vote. I just hope that the turnout is very, very good this year," she says.

Albrecht says the commission saw a really high number of people turning out for early voting.

"We kind of use those early voting numbers as a barometer, what to expect for election day," he says.

Albrecht says other factors outside of the control of election officials can impact turnout for any given February primary. On one hand, there are potentially bitter and icy weather conditions that can deter voters. On the other hand, people may be encouraged by campaign ads and mailings.

"[There's been] a lot of reminders about getting registered prior to the election, and particularly social media has really heightened the public awareness of elections and election dates," he says.

Albrecht expects this year’s turnout to be higher than average. At the same time, he says lawmakers should analyze voting laws that make it more difficult to vote.

"I think [we] always need to be very conscious of people in poverty given the high concentration of people in poverty in this particular city. And some of the challenges, like the photo ID requirement, like proving residents to be able to register to vote," he explains.

Albrecht adds there are many people who might be interested in voting but can’t. State law doesn't allow people to vote while they’re serving a felony sentence, including supervision in the community. Albrecht says on any given election, there are about 10,000 people on supervision for a felony in Milwaukee.

What do you want to know about the 2020 elections and the DNC convention? Submit your questions below.


Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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