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Low Turnout Expected In Wisconsin Primary Next Week

Top Wisconsin election officials expect the upcoming Feb. 16 spring primary to be on par with the 8 to 12 percent state turnout seen in recent spring primaries.

Turnout is expected to be low next week in Wisconsin's spring primary election, where there's one low-profile state race on the ballot in addition to more than 100 local races.

Meagan Wolfe, the state's top elections official, said Monday that based on returns of absentee ballots so far and the small number of people who have chosen to vote-in person early, she expects turnout to be on par with past spring primaries.

“I expect this will be a very low-turnout election,” Wolfe said.

In 2017, the last time there was a state superintendent race, turnout was just 8.3% of the voting-age population in the primary, about 374,000 people. In 2018, when there was a primary for a state Supreme Court seat, turnout hit 12%, or nearly 542,000 people.

Voters in the Feb. 16 election will narrow from seven to two the number of candidates running for state superintendent of schools. There are also primaries in a pair of special elections for open seats in the state Assembly and Senate. Additionally, there are 101 primaries across the state for county, school district, city, village and town officials, the elections commission said.

Winners in the primaries for all those races will advance to the April 6 general election.

As of Monday, only 38,154 absentee ballots had been returned out of nearly 305,000 requested. Just over 1,700 had chosen to vote early, in person.

That's in stark contrast to the record-breaking turnout seen in the November presidential election. One week before that election, 1.3 million absentee ballots had been returned, including nearly 290,000 cast in person.

Wolfe urged voters who had requested absentee ballots not to wait to return them. The U.S. Postal Service advises voters to mail their ballots back one week before the deadline. All absentee ballots must be in by the time polls close at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16 in order to count.

Voters can also drop off their ballots at their municipal clerk's office, in an official absentee ballot drop box if one is available, or at their polling place, Wolfe said.

Voters who choose to cast their ballots at the polling place are encouraged — but not required — to wear face coverings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state superintendent's race is open after incumbent Carolyn Stanford Taylor opted not to seek a full term. She took over for Gov. Tony Evers, who had been superintendent since 2009, after he was elected governor in 2018.

The candidates for that race are Deborah Kerr, who worked 13 years as superintendent of Brown Deer Schools; Jill Underly, superintendent of the Pecatonica Area School District; Shiela Briggs, an assistant state superintendent; Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams, who has 25 years' experience in the education field; Steve Krull, a principal in the Milwaukee Public Schools; Troy Gunderson, who worked for 35 years in public schools; and Joe Fenrick, a Fond du Lac High School science teacher for 15 years.

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