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The 2020 Vote: Primaries Ahead - Why Bother?

As the saying goes, “the world is run by those who show up”. So who is showing up to cast their ballots at primary elections in Wisconsin?

In 2016, the most recent presidential election year, only 14% of Wisconsin voters participated in the partisan primary held in August, while 47% of Wisconsin voters participated in the presidential preference primary in April. In other words, only one out of 7 voters weighed in on which candidates were given the green light to appear on the November ballot for US Senate and Governor of Wisconsin, and fewer than half of the electorate chose the candidates who proceeded onto the ballot for the November presidential election. Were you one of them? Or did you let these important primary elections pass you by?

Each state is responsible for its own voting laws. In Wisconsin, primary elections are open, that is, registered voters do not need to belong to a political party to vote for a party’s candidates; winners are determined by the highest number of votes among competing candidates on the ballot Primary elections are only held when there are more than two candidates for a single seat; thus, there are often no primaries for some races.

It’s likely that everyone knows that there will be a presidential election this year in November, but there will also be three (3) primaries which are intended to narrow the field prior to a final or general election. These primary elections add competition and help narrow the field. Importantly, primaries give voters additional influence in fleshing out our elected representatives.

The first primary of this busy election year in Wisconsin is the Spring Primary (February 18) that focuses on nonpartisan offices: state and local judges, county board supervisors, municipal officials, and school board members. Winners from the Spring Primary will be put on the ballot for the Spring Election on Tuesday, April 7th. This year, the April ballot will also include a Presidential Preference Vote - the second of this year’s three primaries - to guide selection of the final party nominees on the November presidential ballot.

Become familiar with your Spring Primary ballot and prepare to vote on Tuesday, February 18th. State-wide, voters will be selecting from three (3) candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge. Go to myvote.wi.gov to find out “What’s on My Ballot?” for other races in your district with nonpartisan spring primaries.

The final primary of the year is the Partisan Primary on Tuesday, August 11th. While the Presidential Preference Vote will have already occurred on April 7th, the Partisan Primary on Tuesday, August 11th narrows the number of candidates for other partisan offices prior to the General Election on Tuesday, November 3rd. The August primary and subsequent November general election focus on partisan offices including representatives to the U.S. Congress; representatives to the Wisconsin Legislature (Senate & Assembly); district attorneys; and several County offices (Clerk, Treasurer, Register of Deeds).

Although you can vote in the partisan primary in Wisconsin whether or not you are affiliated with a political party, you can only vote within one (1) of the party primaries on the ballot. For example, voting for a Republican State Senator and a Democrat State Assemblyperson will invalidate your ballot.

So, why bother participating in primary elections? Your vote is a powerful tool to help determine which candidates end up on the final ballot, and ultimately who wins and loses an election. By “showing up” at the voting booth, you exercise one of the great freedoms and rights granted to US citizens, and in doing so, you help determine the future of everything from school district spending to US foreign policy.

Are you ready to vote? To get informed go to myvote.wi.gov to check the status of your voter registration, change your address, register to vote, find your voting location, and review “what’s on my ballot?”. Also find out about early voting (absentee voting) in your municipality, and make sure to bring your photo ID with you when you cast your vote.

A printed version of this article was submitted to the News Graphic for printed publication in February 2020.

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