Voter turnout for Wisconsin’s April 6 election barely topped 20%, according to the Associated Press, but this is actually quite impressive given how little was on the ballot, experts say.
University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Barry Burden said in an email to The Badger Herald that a 20% turnout in a spring election is somewhat high.
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While a 20% voter rate is typical for April elections during years without presidential primaries, there were several factors depressing voter turnout and making this year’s statistic noteworthy, according to Burden.
According to Channel 3000, turnout was just under 16% in 2017 and in 2013, when there was also a contested Supreme Court race, turnout was just over 20%.
“In large parts of the state there were few other contested races, or those races were for nonpartisan offices that received little media and public attention.” Burden said. “In this environment, it is remarkable that about one in five individuals nonetheless cast ballots.”
Research shows voters are more likely to participate in partisan elections, Burden said. The only statewide race on the ballot — the election for the Superintendent of Schools — is officially nonpartisan, according to Burden.
Jill Underly, who won the race, had the backing of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party and the teachers union, while her opponent Deb Kerr was backed by Republicans.
Just over 921,000 people voted in Tuesday’s election and Underly defeated Kerr by 16 percentage points, based on unofficial tallies, according to Channel 3000.
Furthermore, the purpose and impact of such an office is likely unclear to many people, Burden said.
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Likewise, the Madison City Council races were also highly competitive despite being officially nonpartisan, with 11 of the 20 races being contested, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Of the City Council races, incumbents Alders Paul Skidmore and Rebecca Kemble lost their respective races, according to the WSJ.
Voters in Madison also had the opportunity to weigh in on changes to common council terms and structure. Referendum items included whether or not there should be term limits and if the positions should be full-time or stay part-time and were only advisory, meaning any changes voted on will not immediately go into effect.
According to WKNOW, voters rejected making the positions full-time and supported term limits.