by Kia Marie Green
It was one of the most highly anticipated primaries.
With state election officials projecting a voter turnout rate upwards of 28%, Tuesday’s primary elections were to be one for the record-books.
After all, with an open gubernatorial race featuring Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett against business owner Tim John on the Democratic ticket and the city’s county executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann squaring off for the Republican nomination, many eyes were watching the voting results of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Other highly publicized races included the U.S. Senate primary that saw three Republicans – Ron Johnson of Oshkosh, David Westlake of Watertown and Stephen M. Finn of Milwaukee – facing off to challenge Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in the Nov. 2 general election, as well as the Democratic primary for Milwaukee County Sheriff, which saw Lt. Chris Moews challenging Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr.
In the legislature, the race for the 10th Assembly District to replace retiring Polly Williams was another highly visible race in the city’s Black community. Milwaukee County Supervisor Elizabeth Coggs, Stephanie Findley of AFSCME District Council 48 and the recently retired executive director of Harambee Ombudsman Project Sherman L. Hill all stepped up for an opportunity to fill the seat.
All in all, the city of Milwaukee’s voter turnout rate was no where near record-breaking – according to published reports, the highest voter turnout in a September primary was 27.9% dating back to 1964 – and some may even say it was bleak with 22.8% of the voting population heading to the polls.
Yet many political science experts say yesterday’s voter turnout was to be expected, particularly with the number of uncontested races.
“If 27.9% is a historic high, then 22.8% is not ginormously disappointing,” said Kathleen Dolan, a UWM political science professor.
“We know voter turnout in a primary is very low. Competitiveness of elections drives turnout. So when you have many races that are uncontested and noncompetitive, then 22% is actually not bad at all,” she added.
Dolan noted that many people who voted yesterday were the core of those who always vote.
Such was the case for Milwaukee resident Erskine Bowles who went to place his vote for Stephanie Findley for the 10th District Assembly seat and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the Democratic gubernatorial race.
“I always vote in all the elections,” Bowles said, “but today I really wanted to see my candidates get in.”
Earl Saffold shared the same sentiment, adding that he believed many African American, Democratic voters would head the polls because of the influence of President Barack Obama.
“From having a Black president, I think that many of our people who don’t vote regularly will be voting today,” he said.
While Saffold was hopeful, Tonia Zolicoffer, a Milwaukee native who recently returned to the city after living out-of-state for 30 years, was dismayed by Tuesday’s voter turnout.
“In our community the information is not getting out there enough. People are not aware of the resources, and they don’t have the correct information, which I think limits a lot of folk from going out and really voting,” she said.
Zolicoffer said political candidates needed to do more than knock on doors and make phone calls. “(Candidates) are only targeting certain segments of the community, and that’s an issue. We really need to get the information and resources out there. Then I believe you will see more people voting.”
Whether it’s believed that the voter turnout rate was typical or disappointing, the election results were as expected.
In the republican gubernatorial race, County Executive Scott Walker came out the victor against Mark Neumann.
Walker will square off against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the Nov. 2 general election. Their primary wins mean that for the first time in 70 years Wisconsin voters will elect a governor from Milwaukee County.
For the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, incumbents Rep. Gwen Moore and Senator Russ Feingold defeated their challengers. Feingold will compete against the Republican primary winner, businessman Ron Johnson.
While many had hoped that Black voters would turn out for state Sen. Spencer Coggs in his race for lieutenant governor against Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson, the results showed otherwise.
Nelson won with 52% of the overall vote, while Coggs garnered 21%, followed by fellow challengers James Schneider and Henry Sanders.
In the legislature, incumbents Barbara Toles and Leon Young defeated their challengers Michael Erdmann and James Dieter, while Jason Fields and Tamara Grigsby were unopposed.
In the high profile race for the 10th District Assembly seat of retiring Polly Williams, Milwaukee County Supervisor Elizabeth Coggs soundly defeated Stephanie Findley and Sherman L. Hill.
In the heated Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race, Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. marginally defeated challenger Lt. Chris Moews, winning 53% of the overall vote.
Tuesday’s highly anticipated primary elections yielded the results many expected.
For the next seven weeks, voters will be tuned into the gubernatorial and senate races.
Said UWM professor Kathleen Dolan: “The governor and senator races present us with campaigns that will be interesting.”
“It’s going to take a while to see if one of the candidates breaks something open, but at this time, there’s nothing to suggest anything other than competitive races.”