Turnout Runs Unexpectedly High in Crucial Wis. Supreme Court Election

Tuesday, 05 Apr 2011 05:24 PM

By David A. Patten

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Observers are surprised at the high voter turnout in a pivotal Wisconsin state Supreme Court election today in balloting billed as a de facto referendum on GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s fiscal austerity measures.

State officials had expected 20 percent of the voters to show up at the polls, which close at 9 p.m. Eastern time. But sources on the ground in Wisconsin tell Newsmax that turnout is much higher than that — and could be “unprecedented.”

The higher turnout doesn’t help predicting the winner, analysts say. One one hand, it could indicate success for a massive get-out-the-vote campaign among grass-roots conservatives. But if the votes come from heavily Democratic areas, the turnout could favor anti-GOP forces.

Tea party leaders supporting incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser hope to offset the formidable influx of union money and volunteers pouring into the state on behalf of Prosser‘s challenger, Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg.

If Democrats defeat Prosser, it would give them a 4-3 liberal majority in Wisconsin‘s Supreme Court. That could be a key advantage if legal challenges to Walker’s budget reforms reach the state’s highest court.

A victory for conservatives would show that they can prevail at the polls even in the face of a full-scale mobilization by organized labor designed to prove that politicians who try to constrain public-sector unions will suffer for it at the ballot box.

Mike McCabe, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan good-government watchdog, tells Newsmax that he has heard reports that turnout in heavily Democratic Madison is running as high as 60 percent.

High turnout also has been reported in the Milwaukee area, which tends to lean Democratic.

The higher turnout in Madison and Milwaukee appears to be driven by open county executive seats. The open post in Milwaukee, ironically, is the one that Walker vacated when he won election to Wisconsin’s statehouse in November.

Although a heavy turnout in those two cities could be bad news for Prosser, turnout also is said to be high in other areas of the state.

One reporter in Eau Claire estimated turnout at one precinct there to be running at about 33 percent. In Green Bay, about 10 percent of the city’s registered voters had cast ballots as of 10 a.m., according to city Clerk Lauri Marenger.

Wisconsin State Sen. Dan Kapanke tells Newsmax that he believes turnout in the western regions of Wisconsin could hit 40 percent, compared with a normal turnout of 20-25 percent,

“I think the turnout will be higher, especially in my part of the state, because we have an assembly district that’s going to be a key battleground, one of the first elections following the new administration here,” Kapanke says.

“So it’s going to be sort of a mini-referendum on Governor Walker and what we’ve done here in the legislature. I think that’s going to raise the numbers,” he says, adding the turnout may be unprecedented for an April election.

Kapanke, who on Friday became the first GOP senator to have enough petition signatures filed against him to force a recall election, tells Newsmax that he is cautiously optimistic that conservatives will prevail in Wisconsin.

“I think you’ll see the grass-roots organizations on behalf of conservatives for Prosser, in the end . . . is going to put him back in. Because he is the most qualified . . . I’m hopeful that we will return Judge Prosser,” he said.

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