The high-profile recall challenges to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators will get their first test at the ballot box on Tuesday, May 8.
The Government Accountability Board (GAB) is projecting that 30 to 35% of the state's voting population, or about 1.3-1.5 million people, will turn out to cast ballots in primaries for the six recall elections. The recall general election follows on Tuesday, June 5.
Polls in Madison will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the Dane County Clerk providing results as they become available.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, said in a statement that the lack of precedent for a partisan recall primary makes accurately estimating voter turnout difficult. The record turnout for a state partisan primary election was 27.9%, back in September 1964.
Four Democratic gubernatorial candidates are vying to challenge Walker: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk; Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma; and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette. Republican activist Gladys Huber will also be running as a fake candidate on the Dem ballot, while Capitol protester Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who is running as a "Lincoln Republican," will be facing Walker on the Republican line.
Democrat Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, is running against Milwaukee private investigator Ira Robins and Isaac Weix, a fake Dem, for a chance to face Kleefisch in the June recall election.
Because of new laws and special rules for recalls, there could be some confusion at the polls. For starters, voters will be able to vote Democratic in one race and Republican in another in Tuesday's election, which is not allowed in regular elections. However, this is a special case, and the GAB is instructing county and municipal clerks not to treat it like a "normal partisan primary," but rather "treat each of the recall offices separately."
Meanwhile, the state's voter ID law is under two court injunctions -- due to lawsuits from the NAACP and League of Women Voters asserting it discriminates against racial minorities and the elderly, so voters will not need a photo ID in order to vote.
But residency rules under the new law will still be in effect, says Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl. Voters will need to prove they have lived at their current address for 28 days and sign a poll book.
Witzel-Behl also notes that it will now be a felony for a voter to cast a ballot on Election Day if they have already submitted an absentee ballot. In the past, the absentee ballot would have simply been voided.
"All the changes in election law are confusing and changes from one election to the next," Witzel-Behl said. "We really don't know what to expect."
Anticipating high turnout, Witzel-Behl ordered enough ballots to account for 100% participation at the polls.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, is also expecting high turnout, noting that there are highly motivated voters on both sides of the recall. And he does not expect the influx of negative advertising to cause voters to stay home.
But Heck warns that in the run-up to the June recall election, state residents are likely to be saturated with mailers, robo-calls, and radio and television spots.
"Wisconsinites are in for a bumpy ride," he says.
Heck does not think many voters will attempt to skew the primary with "protest votes" for the opposite party. Based on the results of the April 3 presidential primary, these votes do not substantially affect the outcome, he says.
"Most people view their vote more seriously than that," he says. "In theory, it sounds like an interesting idea but most people can't bring themselves to do that."