MADISON, Wisc. — Tanisha Jones stood outside the doors of an elementary school named for the famed Wisconsin naturalist Aldo Leopold with her friends on Tuesday, an “I voted’’ sticker on her sweatshirt.
“We need to get rid of Walker,’’ she said, referring to Gov. Scott Walker, the incumbent who defeated his Democratic challenger Mary Burke in Tuesday’s election.
While Jones didn’t get the result she wanted, she perhaps can take solace in this: she was part of the largest voter turnout in a midterm election in the past 50 years in Wisconsin. Government estimates had put the turnout at 56.5 percent, although it was still lower than the turnout for the 2012 electoral effort to recall Walker.
The high voter turnout could be ascribed to the partisan divide in the Badger State, kicked into high gear in 2011 when Walker presented a budget that eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions.
That budget set off weeks of protests and that unsuccessful recall effort, making Walker the first governor to survive such a test. The partisan divide grew further with a new voter ID law viewed as one of the most restrictive in the country. In early October, the Supreme Court ruled, without comment, that the state could not implement the law for the mid-term elections.
Milwaukee Election Commissioner Neil Albrecht verified the high voter numbers, saying that turnout in the city had edged close to 70 percent, with some wards outstripping the number of voters reached for the recall effort.
Ann Jacobs of Wisconsin Election Protection, a non-partisan voting rights group, told Al Jazeera that same-day registration slowed things down.
Ryan McCaffrey, a San Francisco native who attended the University of Wisconsin and stayed on for a job, was one of the people who encountered this issue. Having moved recently, McCaffrey brought in a medical bill to prove her residence, but this wasn't accepted. In spite of this, she said “[the poll workers] were really helpful with helping me find something that would work.”
At the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center on Madison's racially diverse South Side, Chief Election Inspector Peter Williams said that with less than two hours left till closing time, his team had registered roughly 100 new voters. By the end of the evening, 1,170 people had cast ballots in Williams's ward, easily surpassing the 1,000 that had been estimated.
Efforts to get out the vote extended beyond party lines in Madison, with the city's worker-owned cab company, Union Cab, offering free rides to the polls. With two hours to go before the polls closed, the firm said that they had given over 250 rides.