Feb. 16 primary: Why bother?

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in Rock and Walworth counties won't show up at the polls Feb. 16.

Less than 10 percent of Rock County voters came to the polls in last year's spring primary.

This year is different in that there's a primary in the state Supreme Court race. Voters will be able to choose from among Rebecca Bradley, whom Gov. Scott Walker appointed in October to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court; Joe Donald, a longtime Milwaukee Circuit Court judge; and JoAnne Kloppenburg, a judge on the state District 4 Court of Appeals.

The last time the state saw a Supreme Court primary was 2011, when only 5,228 Rock County voters showed up, according to state records.

Walworth County, a less populous county, actually had more voters—5,538—at the polls in February 2011.

The Gazette asked veteran political observer Jeff Mayers, president of Wispolitics.com, for his thoughts on next week's vote:

Q: In many jurisdictions, including Rock County, the Supreme Court race is the only race Feb. 16. Will turnout be worse than usual?

A: It'll be low. I don't have any doubt about that, … which is why the Bradley forces are doing some advertising.

Mayers said if Bradley, who is obviously the conservative in the race, can capture 50 percent or more of primary voters, independent groups considering supporting the other primary winner in the general election might decide not to waste their money on a losing cause.

Q: Does the low turnout tend to favor one candidate?

A: Low turnout generally tends to help Republicans. … It will help the campaigns that are able to turn out their voters.

Q: Speaking of Republicans and Democrats, this is a nonpartisan election, but are there partisan overtones?

I don't think our Supreme Court races are really nonpartisan. They haven't been in a number of years. They just aren't. That's the reality. They're like partisan campaigns. Many of the operatives in partisan elections are getting paid to do these elections.

Q: With so few voting, does one vote carry more weight?

A: Yes, (but) it's hard to motivate people to go out and vote in a primary, even people who know the news, are well educated, who know the issues—all the indicators of people who vote all the time—because you're going to get another chance to vote in this race (in the April 5 general election) …

If it's Bradley versus Kloppenburg or Donald, and if you're a Democrat, and you don't like Walker, it doesn't matter to you if it's Donald or Kloppenburg; you're going to vote against Bradley, essentially.

Q: How will the return of the voter-ID requirement affect this election?

A: Mayer said a low-turnout election like this one will help everyone who participates, including poll workers, get used to the new requirements without a lot of pressure.

April 5 should be a well-attended election, in comparison, because it will include Wisconsin's presidential preference primaries.

Q: How important is the Feb. 16 primary?

A: For the general public, it is important, because if you have an interest in a particular candidate making it through, then you'd better go out and help them, because you may not get another chance. …

There's a reason all these groups spend money on theses races, because (Supreme Court justices) make important decisions. But are people going to be on the edge of their seats and stay up late to find out? Probably not.

Voter ID questions? If you're a new voter and don't have a valid driver's license, you can check what you will need to vote at your municipal clerk's office or online at http://bringit.wi.gov.

In Walworth County: Voters will be asked to narrow the spring-election fields in two races Feb. 16:

—Circuit Court Judge, Branch 2—District Attorney Dan Necci, Lake Geneva attorney Shannon Wynn and Walworth County Court Commissioner Daniel S. Johnson.

—City of Elkhorn mayor: Howie Reynolds, a former city council member and mayor; Tom Myrin, a current city council member; and Brian Olson, the current mayor and former city council member.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16.

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